After 40 days and 40 nights of rain in Los Angeles, a respite finally arrived, so I slipped on the Vans and ventured out. The birds were chirping, the fresh after-storm smell was pungent, the sun was glistening off the puddles on the ground, and the Vans were getting soaked because Son is an idiot. As I walked in a trance-like state, I was brought back to reality when a car zoomed around the corner as I was about to step into the crosswalk. Furious, and about to fire off a salvo of expletives, I hesitated because I heard giggling. Not the teenage girl giggling that I’m scared to death of hearing when my daughter gets to the age. No, this was unadulterated joyous and free giggling. I looked left. I looked right. I looked down. Why did I look down? Anyways, I finally triangulated where the sound was coming from with my bat-like abilities. My eyes finally calibrated to expose a meadow, not one flush with green grass and blooming flowers. No, this Austin Meadows may be made of glass but could provide plenty of power. And he’s cheap! Let’s dig in.
Meadows is 27 years old, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, and bats from the left side. He was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2018, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he played for three seasons before being shipped off again to Detroit.
Throughout his minor league career, he always exhibited excellent plate discipline, striking out over 20% in only two seasons. He stole 20 bases in 2015 while the power fluctuated.
Once he made it to The Show, the strikeout rate ticked up a bit but the power manifested, culminating in 33 home runs in 591 plate appearances during the 2019 season with the Rays. He did steal 12 bases that season but the speed has dissipated over the years. In 2021, he hit 27 home runs and drove in 106, but only stole 4 bases.
The ISO was .268, .167, .224 during those three seasons in Tampa Bay, so the power is legit. What suffered was the batting average, though, as it went from .291 to .205 to .234. The BABIP went from .331 to .288 to .249 as the league started employing the shift more on him – from 50.9% to 58.6% to 74.7%. If you haven’t heard, the shift has been banned. I personally think the wave should’ve been banned instead, but that’s just me.
Now we get to last season, his first in Detroit. The numbers aren’t fugly, except for the .078 ISO, but he only accrued 147 plate appearances due to a plethora of injuries – vertigo, COVID, Achilles, and mental health issues.
In the limited sample size last season, the contact rates were career-highs, as were the chase and swinging strike rates. It was all about injuries and mental health.
Entering this season, Meadows has lost around 20 pounds. I usually eschew the “best shape of life” narratives, but I’ve lost over 20 pounds in my life a few times and I know firsthand how it affects both the physical and mental realms.
And it’s the mental fitness that is most important here. Sports can be such a mental mind f**k, but baseball magnifies things to an insane degree, especially since it’s a game in which a 30% success rate is celebrated and is fraught with peaks and valleys. Hitting the stuff that pitchers these days throw is challenging enough, but if you’re not right between the ears, there is almost no chance. Meadows acknowledged the issue last season and employed a team to help him out.
Despite dealing with a ton of issues last season, the walk rate was still 10.9% while the strikeout rate was only 11.6%. The slash was .250/.347/.328. The power was lacking, but there are tangible reasons for that. He’s a career .216 ISO hitter. Steamer has Meadows projected for a .185 ISO, a .252/.328/.437 slash, a 9.3% walk rate and 19.2% strikeout rate with 19 home runs, 4 stolen bases, and 67 RBI. Only 49 batters had an ISO of at least .180 last season.
Now, the Tigers aren’t going to be the most explosive of offenses, so expecting the counting stats to get back to the Tampa Bay days is foolish. That said, he will likely bat third or fourth in the lineup and hit around 20 bombs with a few stolen bases. The plate discipline is going to be excellent and there’s upside from his Steamer projection. In NFBC drafts from February 1 to March 14th, Meadows is being selected as the 254th player on average and the 61st outfielder.
I love the plate discipline. I love the lineup spot. And I love the discount being offered due to a tumultuous 2022. The risk/reward ratio seems very favorable and this Meadows could bloom plenty of fantasy goodies this season in which to roll around in.