Austin Hedges role as Padres catcher should be in question

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Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

With the poor production from Austin Hedges at the plate, it’s time for the San Diego Padres to employ a catcher-by-committee with Francisco Mejia.

For what appears to be a common occurrence each year, the San Diego Padres are once again towards the bottom of major league baseball in most offensive categories.

As a team, San Diego ranks 27th in batting average (.230), 27th in on-base percentage (.294), 20th in slugging percentage (.407), and are second in all of major league baseball in strikeouts (662). Even with new additions in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado to the lineup, it’s almost impossible to say that the Padres are one of the worst overall offensive teams in baseball.

Part of this poor offensive production has to be attributed to the lack of any sort of consistency in the lineup. On a nightly basis, San Diego typically has two or three players in their batting order that do more harm than good to the offense.

One everyday player that consistently struggles at the plate is catcher Austin Hedges. The 26-year-old was a second-round selection by the Padres in the 2011 draft and was dubbed as the team’s “catcher of the future” due to his high-upside defensively and potential above-average offensive abilities.

The former has come to fruition, as Hedges is arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball by several defensive metrics, while the ladder is almost light years beyond the former. Hedges is currently having one of the worst offensive seasons by a Friar in the past decade, slashing .181/.249/.316 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. He’s striking out 32.5% of the time while walking at only a 5.3% clip, with a 15.6 swinging-strike percentage.

His recent stretch has been borderline abysmal, as Hedges has struck out 17 times, walked only once, and has only three hits over 31 at-bats in 15 days. A poor approach paired with poor timing and a complete pull-side tendency has all contributed to his poor offensive numbers in 2019. It’s not out of the realm of realism to say that Austin Hedges has been one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball through the first two months of the season.

Even with his poor offensive production, however, his defensive value alone keeps Hedges in the everyday Padres’ lineup. For a team that currently lacks any offensive output from anyone not named Fernando Tatis Jr. or Eric Hosmer, it might be time for San Diego to make a few lineup changes to improve their offense.

Luckily for the Padres, they happen to have the second-highest rated catching prospect in all of baseball in Fransisco Mejia. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians at last years trade deadline for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, the acquisition of Mejia almost a year ago was almost certainly the beginning of Hedges end as the team’s catcher of the future.

While Mejia is not in the same stratosphere defensively as Hedges, the offensive upside that he brings to the table can’t be ignored. Mejia has the hit tool and raw power to be one of, if not the, best hitting catcher in all of baseball. He’s a switch-hitting catcher with excellent bat-to-ball skills and is currently slashing .370/.422/.759 with four home runs and 12 RBIs since his return to Triple-A.

Mejia’s offensive numbers at the major league level are not impressive, but he’s only received a handful of at-bats and has never really gotten the opportunity to get going. Hedges, however, has been given every opportunity possible by the Padres to develop his offensive game. After more than 1,000 career at-bats, however, it’s pretty clear as to what Austin Hedges is at the plate.

This is not advocating for the complete removal from Austin Hedges from the Padres’ lineup. His defensive skill-set is like no other, and he should still receive consistent playing time, but he shouldn’t be the full-time starting catcher. Francisco Mejia is the team’s catcher of the future and keeping him down in Triple-A when he’s mashing 507 foot home runs while consistently crushing the baseball does not make any sense. If Mejia is called up soon, as he should be, it’s time for him to receive equal or more playing time than Austin Hedges.

1 thought on “Austin Hedges role as Padres catcher should be in question

  1. Alas, you are probably right about Hedges. Plenty of teams carry a glove-first second catcher, and that’s what he is. Fantastically valuable at working with the staff, blocking balls in the dirt, and all the other parts of the job, but damn near useless with a bat in his hands. He is still 4th on the team in WAR among position players.
    Of course, with the team’s offensive woes, let’s remember that the GM chooses the roster, and the manager chooses the lineup.
    This article could have just as well been written about Manuel Margot. He is terrible, and without the off the chart defensive value Hedges brings. After roughly 1250 plate appearances he simply does not look like a major leaguer. It might be time to send him back to AAA and give Cordero an extended look in CF. Or to trade him. He was a top prospect, so some team will take a small gamble on him.

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