When Will Austin Allen Enter the Picture for Padres?

Credit: Ben Sandstrom/MiLB.com

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The Padres got some bad news on Monday night before their heartbreaking loss to the Giants in San Francisco. Austin Hedges left the game in the second inning with apparent tendinitis in his throwing elbow. That will make the stomachs of Padres fans turn as the news of Dinelson Lamet’s need for Tommy John surgery is still fresh, not to mention the rivals from the north were delivered a huge blow when news broke Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager would miss the rest of the year, needing that same procedure.

I am no doctor but I am just going to say what everyone else is thinking; is it possible Hedges will miss a significant amount of time?

Even if he doesn’t, at what point does Austin Allen hit himself into the picture on the Padres’ roster?

In case you didn’t know, Allen is mashing everything in sight in Double-A San Antonio. While maintaining a strikeout rate under 20%, Allen has launched eight home runs with a  .340 average and an astronomical 194 wRC+. He is the best hitting catcher on any level of the Padres’ organization right now, and maybe anywhere in the minor leagues period. That’s saying a lot since over in El Paso, Brett Nicholas and Raffy Lopez are sharing catching duties and also sharing souvenirs in the outfield seats with 15 home runs between the two.

Raffy Lopez will be getting the call to the bigs after Hedges was placed on the disabled list Tuesday. If Hedges is out for a long period of time, the Padres may move Allen to Triple-A. If he continues to rake while the replacements for Hedges struggle, could the Padres justify giving Allen the call to Petco Park?

Hedges has long been considered the best catcher in the Padres’ organization, and defensively, that is still true. Allen is certainly no Hedges behind the plate. However, if Hedges continues to either be hurt or a liability at the plate, would the Padres send him back down? I hate to kick a guy while he’s down but there is no getting around the fact that Hedges is batting .173 with a 37% strikeout rate.

Austin Allen is not exactly one of the baby-faced teenagers the Friars have sprinkled all over their system. He is 24 years old and in his fourth season in the minor leagues. He has hit everywhere he has been. His defense definitely needs refinement, but if he continues to hit like he is right now, who cares? Gary Sanchez is a borderline-terrible defensive catcher, but no one complains because he hit 33 home runs last season and has seven already this year.

I am not suggesting the Friars dump Hedges for Allen, nor do I think Allen has Gary Sanchez-like power. I am saying if Hedges continues to be either hurt or striking out at the plate, why not give Allen a shot? Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Allen can’t be long for Double-A with offensive numbers one would struggle to put up on MLB The Show 18.

As a former catcher myself, I am not naive enough to think that being a good catcher is just playing good defense and hitting enough to not be a black hole in the lineup. Managing pitching staffs (pitcher-catcher relationships are very important to the success of a pitching staff), blocking balls in the dirt with a runner on third, and giving signs to the infield are just some of the important tasks a catcher must excel at.

Another theory is Hedges might be complacent since no one in the system is breathing down his neck. That is changing with Allen, and if the Padres were to make a move to give Allen a chance, that might light a fire under Hedges.

Allen is the Padres 28th-ranked prospect and is quickly rising. The saying goes “if you hit, they will find a place for you.” If the 2018 Austin Allen is the real Austin Allen, the Padres might be giving at-bats to the wrong Austin.

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