The San Diego Padres are stacked with talent.
In the not too distant future, there should be loads of young talent virtually everywhere on the diamond for the team.
No other position is filled with as much boiling hot lava talent, as the pitching department.
With literally dozens of relevant pitching prospects, the Padres are positioned to be very healthy in that area for years to come. When you have multiple young pitchers about to make their debuts in the majors, you need a calming influence behind the plate to mentor them. Austin Hedges surely provides that, and now that he is hitting, the sky seems to be the limit for the soon to be 26-year-old backstop.
It is very early to place Hedges’ past hitting woes behind him, but there are some very positive signs of his improvement with the bat.
The game of baseball is about adjustments and he surely has done that with his approach. We already knew of his tremendous work ethic when it comes to preparation with the pitching staff. Perhaps the young catcher is more comfortable in his defensive responsibilities and now free to explore hitting amendments. Hedges is an unselfish player. He puts the team before his needs. That, we know.
With the trade of Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians for super prospect Francisco Mejia, there is a lot of pressure on Austin Hedges to perform. He has responded by hitting .303 with a 145 wRC+ since the trade to acquire the 22-year-old catcher. The Padres have a problem — a very good problem. Who is the catcher of the future?
For now, Hedges has that job firmly in his grasp, but the potent, young phenom is only a phone call away. Mejia has basically accomplished all he needs to at the minor league level. He is ready for service time as he has shown the needed skills to be successful. The Padres seem content with his receiving skills as he has flashed excellent footwork and a rocket arm in his limit time for the Chihuahuas. Mejia has a chance to be a special player.
In Austin Hedges, the Padres have a right-handed, power-hitting catcher with all the intangibles to be a manager one day. Hedges understands the game and is able to keep his young pitching staff at ease. As mentioned, there are more young pitchers on the way so he may be a necessity for a team looking for long-term relevance.
In speaking to Andy Green on Friday before the game, he told me that Hedges “is invested in the pitcher. He considers their success as his success. That really means a lot to the guy who is on the mound. All these guys enjoy throwing to him. He receives and blocks just about as good as anyone in the game right now. He is one of the best catchers you are going to see back there.” Green has high praise for his backstop, and rightfully so. He is a rarity.
I wanted to get some quotes from a pitcher who works with Hedges on an everyday basis. I interviewed Matt Strahm on Friday in the dugout and he relayed to me, “He makes our job easier by just the trust you can put into him. You see the work he puts in everyday. He is one of the first guys here. He is always with Darren Balsley and Doug Bochtler. Austin is learning a lot from A.J. Ellis. When you see your catcher putting in work it makes your job way easier. I am very fortunate to work with him.” Strahm sees the improvements that Hedges is making and it only pushes him to be better.
There is a common theme when speaking to any Padres pitcher. Austin Hedges is able to communicate with various players and able to get the most out of the diverse pitching staff. The game of baseball requires a catcher who provides adequate defense. Hedges brings more than that each and every day, and the Padres could deem that too valuable to part with. For now, fans can enjoy solid defense behind the dish and a player who is beginning to find his stride with the bat.