PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Austin Meadows, it's always been a question of health. There's little doubt the Pirates' top outfield prospect will produce when he's well enough to play, but can he stay on the field consistently enough to reach his potential?He showed what he's capable of in the
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Austin Meadows, it's always been a question of health. There's little doubt the Pirates' top outfield prospect will produce when he's well enough to play, but can he stay on the field consistently enough to reach his potential?
He showed what he's capable of in the Pirates' Grapefruit League opener, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a walk in a 6-3 loss to the Rays on Friday at Charlotte Sports Park.
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"Austin had a nice day. It was good for him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Three barrels. Drove in some runs. Swung the bat well. He looked good."
Meadows, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, posted a .250/.311/.359 line in 72 games last year for Triple-A Indianapolis. His campaign was interrupted in June by a strained right hamstring and ended in September with an oblique strain, and the time he missed may also explain the dip in his production.
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"It's tough for anyone. The more you're on the field, the more you can adjust to the game. That's just how it was last year," Meadows said. "Being able to build from that and learn from that, taking things away that didn't work, and just trying to move forward."
Despite those setbacks, Meadows is now a call away from the Majors. The Pirates added the lefty-swinging outfielder to their 40-man roster in November. After being drafted ninth overall in 2013, Meadows could make his big league debut as soon as this summer.
So the 22-year-old set out in the fall to get his body in the best possible shape. He worked over the offseason with Dr. Joel Seedman, a trainer in Atlanta, and focused on total-body lifts and mobility work. He wanted his work to be not only functional but repeatable -- a routine he could carry into the season.
So far, so good. When asked about his strong debut performance, Meadows pointed immediately to his physical condition.
"First thing's first. My body felt really good out there," Meadows said. "I felt healthy. I thought I was seeing the ball really well out there and things happened. It was a good first day."
In and out
The Pirates on Friday released outfielder Michael Saunders from the Minor League contract he signed on Wednesday, allowing him to sign a similar deal with the Royals.
When Saunders signed with Pittsburgh, he was told he would compete for the then-vacant starting job in left field. That position was filled with Thursday's acquisition of Corey Dickerson, blocking Saunders' path to a spot on the Opening Day roster.
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General manager Neal Huntington spoke to Saunders on Friday and agreed to release the 31-year-old outfielder, an American League All-Star in 2016, so he could sign elsewhere and compete for a starting job. Barry Meister, Saunders' agent, told SBNation the Pirates "should be commended for their player-friendly, honest and transparent behavior."
The Pirates' first Grapefruit League start went to right-hander Tyler Eppler, a non-roster invitee likely to begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis' rotation.
Eppler took a step back last year at Triple-A, posting a 4.89 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, and he said that disappointment "kind of fueled the fire this offseason to get going." His first impression this year was a strong one, as he tossed two sharp innings Friday, striking out three while allowing only one hit on an efficient 26 pitches.
"He commanded his fastball to the glove side really well. He spun the ball very well with his cutter, his breaking ball," Hurdle said. "Good velocity. Good conviction. Really fun to watch."
The Pirates will face the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, the Bucs' Spring Training home opener at LECOM Park. Right-hander Nick Kingham is scheduled to start for Pittsburgh against New York's Domingo Germán. Also scheduled to pitch for the Bucs are prospect Clay Holmes, new relievers Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick, Rule 5 Draft pick Jordan Milbrath, lefty Jack Leathersich and non-roster righty Richard Rodríguez.
The game will be broadcast on Gameday Audio, KDKA-AM 1020 in Pittsburgh and on the Pirates Radio Network.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.