A Conversation With Tampa Bay Rays Prospect Curtis Mead

Curtis Mead has emerged as one of the most-intriguing prospects in the Tampa Bay Rays system. A native of Adelaide, Australia who is celebrating his 21st birthday today, the right-handed-hitting infielder is coming off an eye-opening season where he slashed .321/.378/.533. Playing primarily at the two A-ball levels, Mead swatted 38 doubles and 15 home runs while putting up a 141 wRC+. He’s currently with the Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions, where he has nine hits, including a pair of long balls, in 30 at-bats.

Mead discussed his ascent from Australian teenager to fast-rising prospect toward the tail end of the minor-league season.

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David Laurila: You were signed out of Australia by the Phillies. How did that come about?

Curtis Mead: “I’d just turned 17 and was a development player for our local team in Australia. The team wasn’t going very well, and our second baseman was struggling. He was an older guy, 26, and I was a young guy doing all the right things; I was getting there early and putting in the hard work, so with the team having such a bad first half, our coach made the decision to play some of the younger guys. I ended up playing the back 20 of a 40-game season, and hit [.373].

“After the season, I played in the Under-18 National Tournament, which is held in Sydney. Everyone comes in from all the [Australian] States, and I carried that form over from the ABL; I ended up winning the MVP of that tournament. That kind of got me noticed. I’d say anywhere from five to 10 scouts spoke to my parents after the tournament. That made me realize, ‘Holy crap, this is something I could do.’

“In April — in our offseason — [Team Australia CEO] Glenn Williams created a baseball team of 16-to-18-year-olds to go to Arizona. The trip was kind of to show you the college experience; we walked college campuses, we trained on college fields. We also got the opportunity to play extended teams in the minors, so we got a lot of exposure to both college scouts and professional scouts. I was able to showcase my skills, and got really close with probably two or three teams. I ended up signing with the Phillies in May of 2018, at 17 years old.”

Laurila: Which other teams did you come close the signing with?

Mead: The Yankees and the Oakland A’s, along with the Phillies, were probably closest at the end. The Reds, as well.”

Laurila: What was it like going from the ABL to the Gulf Coast League?

Mead: “I was still in high school at that time, but I had a three-week break, so the Phillies said, ‘Hey, come over in 2018 and get your feet wet, kind of experience what it’s like.’ So I went over there, and it was around the time that the new draft picks came in. We had guys like Alec Bohm, and a few older, bigger dudes, as well as the Latin guys. It was kind of, ‘Holy crap,’ like this is where I need to be.

“It was definitely a cultural experience, having my first taste of learning Spanish and stuff like that. So it was really cool. Then I went back later in the year for Instructional League. In 2019, I went to my first spring training.”

Laurila: You’ve learned Spanish since coming over?

Mead: “Yes. With the Phillies, in the Gulf Coast League, it was mandatory. It was twice-a-week Spanish, and I got reasonably good. I haven’t really touched on it since that year, but with [Spanish-speaking] players on the team, I try to pick up a thing or two every day. I understand words and phrases, so we kind of go back-and-forth. They understand a little bit of English, and I understand a little bit of Spanish, so we’re able to communicate.”

Laurila: What was it like to come to the GCL [in 2019]?

Mead: “I was 18, and leaving home, knowing that it was going to be for six months, and knowing that my parents weren’t going to be able to go over, it was definitely… the first month or two I was really homesick. I wasn’t sure if this was what I really wanted to do. But it worked out reasonably well for me, because I spent so much time at the field. I didn’t have anything to do outside of baseball, so I put all of time and effort into baseball. Then, around the halfway point of the year, I started to feel more comfortable. I knew that I was going home in a few months and I’d gotten more comfortable with the environment.”

Laurila: What about comfort level in the batter’s box? The quality of play would have been a lot better than you’d previously experienced.

Mead: “Initially, it was tough. For one thing, the ABL doesn’t get massive crowds, but there is still some atmosphere, if you know what I mean. Going to the Gulf Coast League, it was mainly scouts watching you play. It was initially tough to understand, ‘OK, this is where I’m at,” and get myself hyped up for the game. It was definitely a different type of baseball.

“In Australia, not many guys throw as hard, but they’re kind of smarter and able to get outs — that sort of thing — whereas in America, you find younger, less-experienced guys who are more talented. It’s definitely a different mix and, again, a different type of baseball.”

Laurila: Have you essentially “learned to hit,” since coming over? In other words, has the level of instruction been notably higher than what you experienced back home?

Mead: “Yeah, definitely. I think that’s one thing that Australia is probably lacking in. There are a lot of guys who know what they’re talking about, but then there is that next level of hitting coaches and metrics. And honestly, facilities are what they’re really lacking. Things like Rapsodo, and all the types of data that we get in America, are hard to come by in Australia. So my game has definitely developed since coming over here.”

Laurila: What has changed for you in terms of mechanics and approach?

Mead: “A little bit of my setup has changed, but nothing too drastic. It’s more of just understanding when things aren’t going well, and having a better approach, going into the games understanding what the opposing pitcher is doing. It’s more that side of things. You can watch video of your own swing, you can watch video on the upcoming pitcher. I think that’s what’s taking my game to the next level.”

Laurila: Most of the players who have come over from Australia and had success are pitchers; only a few have been position players. Why do you think that is?

Mead: “I’m not really sure what the reason is, but it’s definitely easier to develop a pitcher. Having big-league pitchers from Australia coming back home and teaching guys is helpful [whereas] you have fewer hitters and hitting coaches coming back to Australia.”

Laurila: Do you know how many Australians are currently playing in the minors?

Mead: “Probably 20 to 30, roughly? There is actually a good batch of hitters that I keep in track with. Most of them play in Adelaide with me in the offseason.”

Laurila: Who among them would you say has the most potential?

Mead: “It depends on what type of hitter you’re looking for, and if you’re including defense. But Robbie Glendinning can really hit. He’s a little bit older [26] and plays with the Pirates. He’s put together some pretty good years in the ABL and here in America.”

Laurila: You mentioned defense. Are you primarily playing third base now?

Mead: “Yes, mainly third base. I’m also touching a little bit of first base, but I’m mostly playing third.”

Laurila: Let’s close with your early years in the game. How did you get involved?

Mead: “I got into baseball from my dad. In Australia, it’s kind of hard to get into baseball with the lack of guys playing, so you’ve kind of got to know someone. My dad [Tim Mead] played in the ABL — we’re one of the few fathers and sons to have done so — and he was my coach up until I was 14-15. After that, he felt it was best that I had someone else coach me. Even so, with him having seen me play for a long time, we’ll chat and he’ll say, ‘That looks perfect; that looks exactly like when you’re going good.’ Other times he’ll say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t quite look so good; when you’re going better, you do this.’ So it’s pretty cool to have someone who’s kind of seen your whole career and knows what he’s talking about. I’ve learned a lot from him.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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deaconblueray
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deaconblueray

Would have been nice to find out what he thinks he still needs to work on to make it to the Big Show. I know he has opened a lot of eyes in the Rays org and national media.