Austin Meadows started the 2017 season with a thud.
The Indianapolis outfielder was hitless in his first 11 at-bats, striking out seven times. But his manager, Andy Barkett, was not worried about the slow start by the No. 2 prospect in the Pirates organization.
"I think we saw him trying to do too much to start the season," Barkett said. "Anytime you have a young player with big expectations, they're going to carry the burden of that. Once he got his first hit, you could see a 100-pound weight being lifted off his shoulders."
Meadows does carry big expectations. Not only is he one of Pittsburgh's top prospects, he began this season ranked seventh overall by MLB.com.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Georgia native said he tries to ignore the hype.
"I just try to go out there and play my game," Meadows said. "The rankings are pretty special, especially the rankings amongst the Pirates players, because we have a lot of special players in our organization. But pressure? I try to just go out there and play my game."
The 21-year-old started having better at-bats over the weekend in Toledo. On Friday, he put a charge into a ball that would have been a home run in June, but the cold April weather kept it in the ballpark for a long out. Undeterred, Meadows followed with another long drive to right-center. That ball bounced high off the padding on the outfield fence for a double but mistakenly was ruled a home run by the umpires.
Video: Indianapolis' Meadows goes deep
"When I'm going good, my swing is smooth and I'm making contact with the ball," Meadows said. "And the ball will take off for the gaps -- or hopefully over the fence. And on defense, I just want to be ready for every pitch. I try to separate my offense from my defense so I can help my pitcher. I try to get good reads and make the plays."
Barkett said he was never worried by Meadows' slow start.
"When I saw Austin as a rover last year, I could see stretches where he could hit in the big leagues right now," the manager said. "This kid is special. He could be a special player for a long time."
Barkett compared Meadows' swing to that of Christian Yelich, who Barkett managed when the standout Marlins outfielder was in Double-A.
"Christian has the unique ability to recognize a pitch out of the pitcher's hand and then know whether to commit to it or not," Barkett explained. "That's a different level of hand-eye coordination. And Austin has the same gift. He probably has more power than Christian did at this point in his career. Austin also has that quiet front side and head -- he's not jumpy or flinchy like many hitters are."
Meadows, who's hitting .162 with a homer and five RBIs in 10 games, said he's not focused on his standing among the game's top prospects or a promotion to Pittsburgh.
"I'm just trying to take care of my business down here," he said. "The Pirates have a saying: 'Try to be where your feet are.' It means don't think about where you think you should be or where you could be.
"I'm just trying to be here in this moment, which for now is Triple-A. I'm trying to learn and get better. Pittsburgh will take care of itself."
Adams on fire: Gwinnett OF Lane Adams used a 4-for-5 night on April 11 at Norfolk to jump-start his season. After going hitless in his first nine at-bats, he belted two homers and drove in six runs against the Tides. Adams has at least one hit in six straight games and is batting .313 with four homers and 11 RBIs.
Turn on the fan: Columbus RHP Mike Clevinger has posted two strong starts to begin the season. The 26-year-old allowed two hits and two walks while striking out eight over six innings on April 6 at Louisville and followed that by fanning nine while allowing four hits and two walks in seven innings on April 11 at Indianapolis. Clevinger leads the IL with 17 strikeouts and is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA.
He said it: "[Matt Hague] loves the game and I couldn't believe he was available, given what he did in Buffalo. If he's able to reproduce that, that would be unbelievable. But you know he's going to be a quality threat and if he plays well here, who knows?" --Rochester manager Mike Quade to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Hague was named 2015 IL MVP with Buffalo after hitting .338 with a league-leading 92 RBIs. Last season, he played in Japan.
He said it, part II: "[Jesmuel Valentin] had a really good spring. He's seeing the ball and putting good passes on them. When he's not squaring them up, he's finding holes. He's riding that as long as he can." --Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan to The (Allentown) Morning Call. Valentin is batting .355 with 11 hits in his first 31 at-bats for the IronPigs.