Austin Hedges’ Value to the Padres

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The San Diego Padres are reportedly considering trading catcher Austin Hedges. The defensive specialist is still young with a developing bat, so is now the right time to move him?

So far this offseason, rumors have far outnumbered actual trades in all of baseball, and certainly in San Diego. One rumor that just won’t die would send some combination of Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, and a prospect to the Cleveland Indians in return for Corey Kluber.

Certainly, the acquisition of a pitcher of Kluber’s stature would immediately improve the Padres’ outlook for 2019 and provide a role model for younger pitchers. However, the Padres need to think long and hard before sending their gifted catcher out of town.

Undoubtedly, Renfroe’s power would be missed, as would Margot’s stellar defense in center field, but outfielders can be replaced far more easily than catchers. It’s the guy squatting behind the plate who has the toughest and most physically demanding job in baseball. He must possess an encyclopedic knowledge of hitters, runners, individual pitchers, and game situations. He also takes more physical abuse than any other player on the field. That skill set makes for perfect managerial material. Consider the career paths of catchers like Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia, A.J. Hinch, and Joe Girardi, just to name a few.

No one can deny Austin Hedges’ skill and dedication as a catcher. Known as a defensive standout at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Hedges fell to the Padres in the second round of the draft in 2011 because of his commitment to UCLA, and possible price tag.

Hedges first joined the Padres in 2015 and backed up Derek Norris. The front office may have expected the veteran to mentor the younger player, but Norris turned out not to be the mentor type (or much of a teammate overall). Thanks to a broken hamate bone in early 2016 while playing with El Paso, Hedges didn’t join the big club until close to the end of the season.

Finally, in 2017 he took over behind the plate and caught 115 games. That year, he finally had a chance to showcase his defensive talents, and his 26.7 fielding runs above average (Baseball Prospectus) topped all catchers. He also ranked second in framing runs. This year, he ranked near the top in FRRA_ADJ (which measures blocking, framing, throwing).

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Hedges is no stranger to highlight reel plays. As an example, in April against the Giants, he made a diving catch of a bunt popup behind the plate, then threw a strike from his backside to second for a double play. First baseman Eric Hosmer told AJ Cassavell of, “That’s about as tough a play as you’ll see by a catcher.”

The fact that Hedges missed 50 games early this season with right elbow tendinitis certainly held him back and may have affected his ability to pick off runners. He finished the season with a batting line of .231/.282/.429/ and 14 home runs. Although he showed a slight improvement over his previous year’s batting stats of .214/.262/.398, Hedges obviously needs further improvement. However, he actually thrived against the division rival Dodgers, batting .270/.308/.486. The fact that he could put up those numbers against LA’s pitching staff indicates that he does have the ability.

Hedges’ 90 strikeouts in 91 games certainly cause concern. However, he is hardly alone. Strikeouts have swept through all of baseball like a virus through a pre-school. Hedges’ K% of 27.6 percent over last year’s 29.3 percent has showed slight improvement. Many of his teammates also need to improve, including Wil Myers 27.4 percent, Franmil Reyes 28.1 percent, and Hunter Renfroe 24.7 percent.

In his article for the Ringer “The Art of Austin Hedges,” Michael Baumann points out that the Cardinals’ iconic catcher, Yadier Molina, on track for a probable ticket to the Hall of Fame, didn’t start hitting until he was in his late 20s. However, in 2006 on their way to a World Series Championship, St. Louis depended upon Molina behind the plate despite his batting line of .216/.274/.321. “It turns out that the best defensive catchers don’t need to hit very much at all,” concluded Bauman.

At 26, Austin Hedges obviously has room to improve with the bat, but he also has the work ethic and the desire to reach his potential. In September, AJ Cassavell of wrote an article for entitled, “There’s a Gold Glove Award in Austin Hedges’ future – the Padres’ pitching staff is sure of it.”  The Padres need to think long and hard about the risk of losing that kind of talent at such a crucial position.

11 thoughts on “Austin Hedges’ Value to the Padres

  1. I’ve seen the padres since their inception 1969. Many times I’ve watched as the padres waste 4 even 5 years on a player they swear are going to be a great player. (Headly, anybody ?) And the rule 5 players? How many times have we seen a guy get an entire year and done nothing? And the padres box themselves again and again. Anyway, austin can’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag. It’s like having automatic outs in the 8 and 9 spots Every game. Ya, he’s pretty and plays the sax, he didn’t even hit in high school. How can this even be a question?

  2. These are all really interesting points, and I really appreciate the thoughtful input. Mark C nails it when he says that the general lack of offense makes Hedges’ hitting stand out more. If he were surrounded by guys who got on base or could actually bring a runner on second with fewer than two outs home much less attention would be paid to Hedges.
    It is also heartening to see that I’m not alone in valuing Hedges’ defensive prowess. This season should give us an even better idea of how much the front office values defense.

  3. Trying to read Preller’s mind and predict what he will do is like trying to predict the weather. You think you know but when the storm hits, you realize you just didn’t see it coming.

    What do we know for sure? With rare exceptions, (Manuel Margot) Preller has NO loyalty towards any player he inherited, signed as a free agent or drafted himself. Has he made some good decisions? That’s debatable and we can talk about it all day long. But one thing for sure, he seems to be making Fowler and Seidler happy. So until “they” become displeased, we’re stuck with the guy.

    Do other teams and GM’s trust him? Based on the activity we have seen so far, I’d say NO. That bothers me because “trust” in any business as well as in life, is everything. Stay tuned; the dam is about the break and we will soon see what kind of a team Preller is going to give us.

  4. I believe Preller see’s a trade down the road by possibly acquiring Realmutto and then offering either Hedges or Mejia and Margot, plus a prospect for Kluber. To me that would lessen the loss of Hedges.

  5. Good article; the author may be the finest one on EVT!

    Some good food for thought on Hedges. My concern is this: why on Earth is Preller pursuing Realmuto — especially now, since he’s going to be a free agent after 2020, when the Padres should finally be contenders? It makes absolutely no sense!

  6. He is the rock. It would be a mistake to trade him. I am a bit concerned with the number of concussions…It would be interesting to find out how many concussions compared to other catchers with similar innings. What could be done to reduce the number in the future? Still wonder if Mejia or Cordero could solve the 3B problem.

  7. I like Hedges, a lot. He seems to be a leader,and a competitor. I think if Hedges can hit .245 and 20 homeruns he will be an all star for the next 10 years. I’d hate to give up on him after his second half, however Mejia has more offer sive upside. SS, C, and CF typically tend to have glove first guys. Imagine if we had Cordero hitting 30/30 homeruns/sb a year in CF, Tatis hitting 30/30 homeruns/sb a year at SS,and Mejia hitting .300. Scary upside w those guys, and scary bust potential as always w any prospect. If I’m AJ, I hope both guys have a killer spring and if we’re not blown away w an offer for good young SP, then platoon them and go from there.

  8. The Pads need to keep Hedge for his defense and framing for the young stud pitchers coming up. If he’s our #8 hitter for the next 8 years, I’m in. Beef up our hitting 1-7, but keep the defensive, cost controlled Hedges around. Atleast use 2019 to see how he advances and what Mejia brings to the table?

  9. I think you make a good point about great defensive catchers not needing to hit…as much.

    I think why he stands out for his lack of hitting is that the Padres offensive has been anemic since he entered the majors, so it is perceived as a massive whole in the lineup (in front of the pitcher) which it currently is. Once we have more consistent bats and better offensive output, this would be less of a concern. I do feel that he will hit soon enough and the competition he faces with Mejia and Allen will only help push him to be better.

  10. I agree.
    When a player is this good with the glove at an important position, you keep him. Ozzie Smith could barely hit, and Mark Belanger couldn’t hit at all, yet they had long, valuable careers for winning teams.
    That Hedges seems to pop up in many trade rumors fits the pattern for this front office. They simply do not value defense. Their vaunted bold roster in 2015 had Myers in center!
    It’s an open question whether they even consider defense. They’ve played Myers everywhere, also Pirela and Spangenberg.
    Hedges is the one true, above average defender on the team, and as you rightly point out at the toughest position, and yet they seem eager to trade him.

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