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Meadows motivated to reach next level

Prospect healthy, better prepared for 2017 season
MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While the starting outfield's away, Austin Meadows will play.

Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco likely will spend the better part of this month playing in the World Baseball Classic. That opens the door for a handful of younger outfielders in camp to receive more playing time -- specifically Meadows, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- While the starting outfield's away, Austin Meadows will play.

Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco likely will spend the better part of this month playing in the World Baseball Classic. That opens the door for a handful of younger outfielders in camp to receive more playing time -- specifically Meadows, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com.

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Meadows started in center field on Monday and went 1-for-2 with a walk and a two-run double in the Pirates' 13-1 win over the Yankees. He is scheduled to start in right field and bat third on Tuesday. Manager Clint Hurdle recently said Meadows will also get a long look in left field, which could be an option "down the road."

Meadows won't break camp with the Pirates. He'll start the season where he finished last year -- in Triple-A Indianapolis. Still, he is eager to make the most of his first big league camp.

"It's been a good experience to get some playing time under my belt," Meadows said. "I'm looking forward to more with this opportunity the next few weeks. I'm excited to get a lot of at-bats. I'm excited to get that competition. When the competition rises, it's a lot more fun."

Meadows, 20, battled through injuries last year. He was set back in Spring Training by an orbital fracture, sidelined most of July with a hamstring injury and held out of the Arizona Fall League due to an oblique strain.

Meadows took up yoga and focused on flexibility this offseason, hoping to create a "looser" body. He carries around a jug of water, aiming to drink at least a gallon a day. He's incorporated more stretching into his daily routine this spring, and he can tell a difference.

"I feel really good. That stuff goes a long way because you can take it with you," he said. "It's good, even from a relaxation standpoint, working on breathing and flexibility. There's a lot of different benefits to it."

Meadows, MLBPipeline.com's No. 9 overall prospect, has thrived when healthy. Drafted ninth overall in 2013, Meadows owns a career .300/.368/.480 slash line in the Minors. He has long been viewed as McCutchen's eventual successor, and that talk resurfaced when the Pirates began listening to trade offers for McCutchen over the offseason.

Meadows greatly enjoyed sharing the field with McCutchen the last couple days, even getting a start in center with McCutchen repositioned in right. Admittedly, he was nervous to play catch with Pittsburgh's franchise player.

"But that's everybody's reaction," Meadows said, smiling. "He's a really awesome dude, really down to earth. He's fun to talk to, fun to be around, picking up on certain things he does. He's a special person. It was cool being able to play with him. That was definitely an honor."

Meadows may eventually find himself playing left field for Pittsburgh, with Marte in center and Polanco in right. But that is not his concern this spring. He spent the first few weeks trying to soak in everything he could from the starting outfielders, and he'll stay busy the next few weeks while they're not around.

"I noticed those guys are really loose out there. There's no tension, no pressure. They don't put that on themselves. They've been there," Meadows said. "It's cool being able to see that. For me to pick up on that and stay loose -- you play better, obviously, when you're relaxed -- and just go out there and have fun. That's what this atmosphere is about."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Austin Meadows