Grades at the catching position for the 2019 San Diego Padres.
There is no doubt that the San Diego Padres have catching depth throughout their system.
This piece will examine and grade the four starting catchers who caught for the Padres in 2019.
Offensive Grade: F
Defensive grade: A
One of the most polarizing players in a Padres uniform is Austin Hedges.
Hedges is by far the best defensive catcher in the MLB with a 27.6 defensive score and 22 Defensive Runs Saved according to Fangraphs.com. The way he handles the pitching staff and calls a game is also second to none. Where Hedges lacks consistency, is throwing out base runners. His caught stealing percent is 33% which has been his career average.
The main issue with Hedges is with his bat. His batting average this season was .176, which was over 50 points lower than last year. To say he had a down year offensively would be an understatement. This is where Padres evaluators are torn with Austin Hedges and generally are in two groups.
The first group is more old school in their thinking. They believe a catcher’s main responsibility is to his pitchers and anything he does at the plate is a bonus. What Hedges does for the pitchers is invaluable, and he should be starting most games. The second group believes that no matter how good a catcher is behind the plate, there is a minimum offensive standard. Hedges is not meeting that standard, and he should not be playing until he can meet said standard.
There have been reports of several teams interested in Austin Hedges, even with the offensive deficiencies. These clubs have good lineups that could absorb his lack of production while getting the best defensive catcher in MLB. A team that has invested in their pitching staff will want to be able to get the most out of that unit. Hedges would undoubtedly help in that regard. Unfortunately, the Padres are not that team right now. Although the Padres have invested tremendously in the pitching staff, they do not have a lineup that can absorb another under-performing player. The Padres rank at the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. However, if the team were to make some offensive improvements in the offseason, they may be in a position to keep Hedges on the team, in whatever fashion that may be.
Offensive Grade: A
Defensive Grade: B-
At the beginning of the season, Francisco Mejia was not a good catcher, to put it bluntly.
Many mistakes were made that would get a player benched on a college or even high school team. The Padres kept their faith in him, and it paid off. Mejia improved by leaps and bounds this year behind the plate. Although he still has a lot of room to improve, he’s turned himself into a serviceable catcher. All aspects of his game have improved including blocking, receiving, and framing.
Mejia has also been putting in the time to learn English, something that may have been holding him back from gaining the trust of his pitchers. Mejia deserves a lot of credit, but he received help along the way from now interim manager Rod Barajas. Barajas is a former catcher and a Spanish speaking Mexican-American. The Padres interim manager was also Mejia’s manager last year in Triple-A El Paso, so the relationship has already been started. This was a key factor in Mejia’s improvement this year.
He received a high grade due to his exceeding expectations this year. According to Baseball-Reference, he had a 0.1 Defensive WAR for 2019. It is not normal for a catcher to improve that drastically in just one season. Offensively, Mejia showed that he might be too valuable to not be in the lineup every day. The switch hitter batted .270 on the year, and that was after a horrid start to the season. Mejia was one of the few bright spots offensively this season. With his improved defense and stellar offensive production, the small catcher has earned himself a spot on this Padres team. He could see some games in the outfield next year, as well, to get his bat in the lineup on non-catching days.
Offensive Grade: C
Defensive Grade: C
As the third catcher during the season, Austin Allen only started 14 games.
The left-handed slugger was only able to bat .215 in limited chances. Allen will still need time to develop as a hitter and a catcher. He was able to fill in the role as the third catcher bouncing back and forth from Triple-A El Paso, but he needs extended time with the Padres to develop fully. He may not be afforded that opportunity but would be a valuable trade piece to another team. If the team trades another catcher, Allen could find his way into the backup role.
In his limited outings, he struggled, as would be expected from any rookie, earning him average grades.
Offensive Grade: B
Defensive Grade: B
A 2016 Rule 5 draft pick, Luis Torrens has already seen time with the Padres. At the time, he was not expected to perform; the team knew he wasn’t ready.
Instead, he was in the long term plans of the franchise.
In limited games in September, Torrens showed improvement in every facet of his game. He showed he deserved more playing time and at bats. He could be the player the Padres make room for, due to his higher ceiling than Austin Allen. Torrens highlights the depth the Padres have at catcher. He may be one of four players competing for two open catcher positions in Spring Training. If Torrens hits well, he could possibly be kept on as a third catcher on the team due to expanded rosters in 2020. He would need to perform as a pinch hitter in this case. The future looks bright for Luis Torrens.