Shades of 2019 Austin Meadows Are Back This Spring…and Then Some

Meadows (center) celebrates with teammates after hitting his second home run of spring training in a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 2. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

The 2020 MLB season was an unquestionably tough one for 2019 All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows. 

He was coming off a season where he hit .289/364/.558 with 33 home runs and 89 RBI and a 144 OPS+ in 138 games, finishing 14th in AL MVP voting.

However, Meadows would test positive for Covid-19 before the start of the 2020 season and the initial setback and recovery from the virus hindered his play on the field as he hit .205/.296/.371 with an 86 OPS+.

There was something off about his play during the season, which makes you wonder how the Rays would have fared differently in the postseason had he been healthy.

A few glaring differences stood out during the season as Meadows’ expected batting average (xBA) was a career-low .177, ranking in the bottom two percent of the league. His career-high 32.9 percent strikeout rate ranked in the bottom five percent of the league.

Meadows has made some wholesale changes in the offseason. He has lost 10-15 pounds and he’s said that he’s in arguably the best shape of any year in his career. In just a few games, he’s already shown that those subtle changes have made a big difference, having hit three home runs already this spring training.

Meadows is expected to be the Rays’ offensive leader in 2021 after what he proved to be in 2019. He can not only hit for power, but he hits for average and he looks to drive the ball into the power alleys for extra-base hits.

You can see from his most recent home run this spring that there’s more energy in his swing. His hands are going through the ball quicker and his bat is moving through the zone effortlessly.

A few important things to note about Meadows’ 2020 season was that his average exit velocity on batted balls, 90.1 MPH, was just 0.3 miles per hour less than in 2019. 

Also, his walk rate increased to a career-high 11.2 percent in the shortened campaign and his hard hit percentage was identical to 2019 at 42.9 percent. 

Take the success of Meadows in 2019 plus his increased walk rate in 2020, and that’s a superstar player on a team that can make another deep playoff run.

Keep an eye on Meadows the rest of Spring Training, because this season could be a special one, even more so than two years ago.