The San Diego Padres had a very valuable commodity in Brad Hand.
Multiple teams obviously kicked the tires on the reliever, as his numbers were certainly impressive in a Padres uniform. The team took their time in dealing the closer and, in the end, obtained one of the best prospects in all of major league baseball in return.
Francisco Mejia is a switch-hitting catcher with a rocket arm. Defensively, there are some concerns about his framing and such, but he has the tools to be very successful in the game of baseball. The bat that Mejia possesses is the most impressive thing about this young man. He should be, at the very least, an average major league hitter and could very well be even better than that. The Padres are very excited, as Mejia brings a middle-of-the-order type of bat to a position that has traditionally been weak for the Friars.
Francisco Mejia is 22 years old, Hedges is soon to be 26.
Both men are very young, and seemingly have a bright future. Though Hedges is known for his defense, he has looked much more polished at the plate of late. Adjustments have been made to his swing and the results have been favorable for the past month. Baseball purists speak about the value of a solid, defensive-minded catcher. Hedges easily provides that at the major league level, but what is his future?
Francisco Mejia has the ability to play the outfield and he did play some third base in the Arizona Fall League as well. The Padres have publicly stated that they want Mejia to remain at catcher for now. The Padres are set to evaluate him at the position moving forward for the rest of 2018. The thing is, the Dominican catcher is basically major league-ready now. Sure, there are concerns about the defense, but he should be given a shot relatively soon to face major league pitching.
So, where does that leave the Padres?
The team has an issue. A good one, perhaps. But ultimately a decision will need to be made in regards to these two talented men.
Which catcher is the keeper?
The case for Austin Hedges
Playing major league baseball is a grind. You need to have a rock behind the plate. A successful team deserves a catcher who refuses to take days off and grinds away at his craft. Hedges has all those characteristics, which are greatly admired by the pitching staff and his teammates. There is also the argument that winning teams traditionally do not have offensive-minded players behind the dish. Not that Hedges could never be adequate with the bat. He has made progress recently.
It takes a special player to handle the pitching staff and Austin Hedges has already shown that he has knowledge of the unit. There is comfort already with young pitchers like Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, and that cannot be overlooked. He grew up in the system and has knowledge of what the Padres are trying to attempt. He is a homegrown Padre.
The case for Francisco Mejia
Mejia can hit. The old adage is that if you can hit, they will find a place for you to play. Most negative reports talk about Mejia and his defensive issues, but what many fail to admit is that he has a rocket arm and is very athletic behind the plate. It will take time for him to improve his receiving skills, but there is no reason to believe that he will be a hole at the position. You cannot compare him to Hedges defensively, he will probably never be that good. That speaks more about how good Hedges is behind the dish than how much work Mejia needs.
His switch-hitting swing is a thing of beauty and he could be very special. He is aggressive with the bat from both sides of the plate and does not walk terribly often. Not a huge issue, as he usually makes hard contact to all fields. He has very sneaky power and could emerge as a threat in that area in time. Mejia is special. There is no debating that. He put up a 50-game hitting streak in the minors, which was the longest streak since 1963. Francisco Mejia is the No. 1 catching prospect in the game and that is nothing to be taken lightly.
The case to keep both
This seems like an odd idea, but having the best of both worlds would be a great thing for the Padres. A catcher who can hit from both sides of the plate and teaming him with a defensive catcher who helps mentor the young staff. This could be an option for the Padres.
The problem is, both men deserve to play on an everyday basis. You could sneak Mejia in the lineup every once in a while in the outfield, but the Padres have plenty of outfield depth already. Mejia’s true value lies as a catcher, not as an outfielder. In the end, the Padres will probably need to make a decision regarding this duo. Look for the team to get plenty of looks at Mejia (even at the major league level) behind the dish. They will want to see how he adjusts and how will he can potentially bond with the pitching staff. For now, Padres fans can enjoy both backstops as they mature in the game of baseball. Having two serviceable catchers is not a bad thing.