Francisco Mejia was brought in last year to contend with Austin Hedges for the catcher spot of the future, and his bat is doing the talking.
One of the most hotly contested debates of the 2019 season among Padres fans has been the catching situation between Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia. After 1,200 plate appearances, it’s apparent what Hedges is and what he is not. He is perhaps the best defensive catcher in baseball, but it comes at a price as he is also one of the worst hitters in the league.
Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Hedges is fifth-to-last in all of baseball with a 52 wRC+.
Mejia is showing that he is ahead of Hedges at the plate in every way. Since the All-Star break, Mejia is batting .303 with a .870 OPS and 127 wRC+ in 36 games. In that same span, Hedges is batting .204 with a .686 OPS and 77 wRC+.
Of course, everyone points out the disparity in their defense, which exists. Mejia is currently at -3 Defensive Runs Saved and -0.2 dWAR while Hedges leads all of baseball with 22 Defensive Runs Saved with a stellar 1.2 dWAR.
However, Mejia is beginning to out-hit his defensive shortfalls. Mejia’s WAR via Baseball-Reference is 0.3, while Hedges’ is 0.1. That is with Hedges playing a dozen more games with 70 more plate appearances. WAR takes defense into account, so by this number, Mejia is out-performing Hedges due to his far better bat.
Mejia is certainly not up to Hedges’ standards defensively. However, he is also not a liability, like Hedges is as a hitter in the lineup. -3 DRS might seem sub-optimal, but Wilson Ramos of the Mets is at -11 DRS, but has a 105 wRC+ at the plate. Other respected catchers like Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez are average to below-average defenders behind the plate but more than makeup for it with their bats.
Mejia is reaching that point where he is hitting well enough to cover for his less-than Gold Glove play behind the dish. Plus, Mejia is four years younger than Hedges and is already hitting better than his counterpart, all while his defense can and should improve with more offseason work.
As it stands today, Mejia is vastly out-hitting Hedges in just about every category.
With his overall WAR now passing Hedges, it looks as if Mejia is establishing himself as the Padres catcher of the present and future. Especially if he can improve his defense, Mejia is the best choice to open 2020 as the Padres catcher based on his performance in the second half of this season.