It took Austin Hedges nine games before he finally mustered his first hit last season as the starting catcher for the San Diego Padres. At times, he looked frustrated at the plate and completely lost. He was unable to find good contact, leading to a dreadful .218 batting average and .264 on-base percentage. The young back stop is undeniably one of the best defensive catchers in the entire league and finished with only 10 errors in 115 games behind the dish last season.
The worries over his offensive vulnerabilities continued for much of last season, reflected in his first nine games without a hit to start the season. Hedges showed reoccurring issues, hitting for weak contact and swinging at pitches, primarily breaking balls that were out of the zone. The right-handed hitter did manage to swat 18 home runs last season, displaying his power potential when he’s able to make solid contact. His eye-opening power as a catcher is just what this Padres’ coaching staff wants.
Hedges spent hours over the offseason working on a new approach, preparing to revitalize his career at the plate and bounce back this season. The changes are evident and we can see the positive results in just a small sample of spring training games.
In his first four games of spring training, Hedges has a .600 batting average with four home runs and six RBI. His third home run of the spring, coming against the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Wilmer Font, went ringing off his bat and over the left center field wall as he cut the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the second inning. His reconfigured swing showed his excellent balance from start to finish with a more comfortable presence. Last season, Hedges’ relied on a one-hand follow-through with a much different look from what we are seeing this year. In Friday’s game, Hedges pounded his fourth dinger of the spring and was given the “silent treatment” from his teammates in the dugout when he returned from circling the bases. Even they cannot believe his hot start.
Andy Green believed Austin needed to change his mechanics, helping for a more fluid swing and balanced motion. “We are looking for him to stay more centered and keep his head forward instead of over his back foot. He’s quieted the ball down and is seeing it much better now”, Green said.
Austin Hedges’ new adjustments have certainly allowed him to drive the ball to all fields, something he struggled to do last season. His front foot is getting down early in the swing, and he’s keeping both hands on the bat as he follows through. The new swing presents a fluid motion and more poise when at the plate.
It’s worth noting, in his first three home runs, all were hit to different parts of the ballpark. His third homer, that came on Wednesday afternoon, gave Andy Green a great look at the level of power he can generate when he keeps his head forward through the swing. Those at-bats are a bright sign for Hedges, who is striving to become a more consistent offensive presence, able to hit hard fly balls and line drives to any part of the ballpark.
He’s constantly working on refining his defensive skills and finding ways to up his defensive value leading to more Padres wins. Hedges spends more time studying opposing hitters and finding ways to be more successful behind the plate than he does working on his swing. Perfecting his catching skills is equally as important and will continue to be at the front of his mind.
The 27-year-old catcher is off to a brilliant start, a bright spot for the Padres’ coaching staff. If this new swing continues to bring success for the rest of March and during the regular season, we can expect a noticeably better season for Austin Hedges in 2018. His All-Star catching skills at the dish and impressive power as a catcher make him a unique talent. The “Next Best Catcher” is ready to take off and help the Padres step forward in their rebuilding process.