The Tampa Bay Rays have gotten off to a very impressive start this year. As the All-Star break quickly approaches, they sit in first place in the American League East, a half game ahead of the New York Yankees. They have been fantastic in all aspects of the game, from their starting rotation putting forward quality starts on a daily basis to their offense tearing the cover off the baseball. They’re currently third in Major League Baseball in team batting average (.262) and first in ERA (2.92).
A vital reason for their offensive consistency on a regular basis is the brilliance of 24-year old outfielder Austin Meadows. The former first-round draft pick was traded to Tampa Bay as part of a trade that sent right-hander Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates last July. Since arriving in Tampa Bay, Meadows has been an absolute mainstay at the plate. In just his first full big-league season, Meadows is hitting .341, which is first in the AL and second in the sport behind only Cody Bellinger. The youngster has also hit 12 homers and driven in 38 runs. As of Monday, he’s currently third amongst AL outfielders in All-Star Game voting. The only two players ahead of Meadows are George Springer and Mike Trout. Pretty surreal company to say the least for a second-year big leaguer.
Meadows has a very simple approach at the plate. He doesn’t try to do too much and uses minimal movement to get his barrel to the baseball. He uses a small toe tap, just enough to shift his weight. Meadows does a particularly good job of using his rotational power in his swing, creating a lot of torque as he swings the bat. The best hitters in the game have little movement during their swing. Meadows is a prime example. His swing is short and compact, using all the power he generates from his lower half to explode his barrel to the ball. Here’s a slow motion look of his swing:
Although he’s only hit 12 home runs this year, Meadows has the potential to be a 25-plus homer guy in the near future. When he squares up a ball properly and gets lift on it, it goes a long way. His average long-ball distance this year is 402 feet, which is slightly above the league average.
The sign of a good hitter is a guy who can hit the ball where it’s pitched by using the entire field. Meadows has done a fantastic job of this so far this year. Of his 63 hits, 25 have been to the opposite field. Only one of his homers was hit to left field, while three more of them were hit to dead center. He isn’t a pull-happy type of hitter. Rather, a gap-to-gap hitter who has tremendous speed and can turn doubles into triples with ease. He’s currently a nightmare for major-league arms because they have no idea how to pitch to him when he continues to spray balls from line to line.
Speed is another above-average tool that Meadows has. Although he has only swiped eight bags this year, he runs the bases very well and could be more of a base-stealing threat as he gets more comfortable at the big-league level. Meadows’ quickness definitely helps him in right field when he needs to run down balls in the alley.
Spark Plug at the Top of the Lineup
It’s always important to have a guy at the top of your lineup who can get things going in the right direction to start off a game, or inning. Meadows is the leadoff hitter for the Rays and, more often than not, gets on base to start the day. With the bases empty this year, he’s hitting .339. Eight of his 12 home runs have been solo shots. Seven of his 15 doubles have come with no one on base.
Hitting is contagious, and when you have a player like Meadows who can start things off in a positive manner to begin an inning, it’s huge. He has been the ultimate spark plug at the top of the Rays lineup and is an extremely vital reason why Tampa Bay currently sits at the top of a talented AL East division.
All-Star? There’s no question. More like an early candidate for the AL Most Valuable Player Award if he can continue to rake at the plate. In doing so, Austin Meadows might just lead the Tampa Bay Rays to their first postseason appearance since 2013 if they can continue to fire on all cylinders.