There are many interesting aspects to this 2015 San Diego Padres season. One of the most pressing questions heading into the off-season is which starting pitcher will the team consider its catcher of the future? Both Derek Norris and Austin Hedges have shown that they each can be contributors on an everyday level in the Major Leagues. A very nice problem to have if you are a MLB franchise.
The two catcher both bring different aspects to their game, but each catcher excels in the intangibles you seek for an everyday back stop. There are certain personality traits that are needed to be a catcher. You have to have an unbelievable toughness about you, but within that toughness the position demands a certain amount of grace.
The view of the field from a catcher’s position is second to nobody. The whole game is right there in front of them, including the batter and the pitcher. Their signals to the pitcher designate location of pitch and with that inside information they have an early indication of where the batter will potentially hit the ball. The emotions of the game can be critical to success of a player. As a catcher you must keep these emotions in check and also assume the responsibility of the teams emotions.
This grace and intangible behavior can not be listed as a stat. There are no points given for being a good leader, or positioning a player in the correct area. Both Hedges and Norris have this ability to control the pitching staff and each provides a decent offensive game as well. If you have a catcher with both aspects you have a potential All-Star and that is the situation the Padres are in.
Both catchers have tremendous value and with the team looking for missing pieces, one of them will likely be dealt during the off-season. Which catcher… is the pivotal question? Early in the season it seemed like a no-brained that the Padres should keep Derek Norris, but Austin Hedges has really progressed with the bat. His hitting was always a big question mark, but recently he has taken great strides and seems poised to progress.
Derek Norris came into this season with the reputation of being an offensive catcher with poor defense. Last season Norris struggled to throw out base runners, and only threw out runners at a 17% mark (12 out of 72 runners). This season he has thrown out runners at a personal best 36% (38 out of 105 attempted runners). He has taken great strides with his defense and that type of accountability cannot be taken for granted.
Norris overall offensive numbers have been solid. A horrible month of June in which Norris only managed to hit .168 (16-95) stunts his overall numbers. He has hit much better this month (19-68) .279 and has an overall batting line of .247/.291/.413 in 421 at bats. Norris has smashed a career high 13 home runs and driven in 54 runs for the Padres. His strike out numbers are up from seasons past and his walk numbers are down. Norris is probably trying to do too much with the bat at the moment. 106 strike out so far verses 22 walks is not the way Norris typically approaches the game. He will improve on those numbers, that you can count on.
Austin Hedges has the quick release and perfect framing technique you dream about in a young catcher. He has not disappointed in his brief Major League time. Hedges has thrown out 11 of 30 would be base stealers. That is very good for a young backstop. Hedges defense already makes him Major League ready, but the offensive strides he has shown of late are quite promising. His overall numbers are not very appealing as Hedges is hitting .196 with two home runs and nine RBI’s, with a whopping 25 strike outs in 92 at bats.
Those numbers are a bit skewed as Hedges started out the season lost at the plate. In May and June Hedges hit .111 and .100, but the Padres stuck with him and he rewarded the team by hitting .273 in July and is hitting .250 this month in 32 at bats. Every start he is showing signs of progress and Major League scouts are surely taking notice. His value is at an upswing and the former top prospect could easily fetch a handsome bounty of players for the Padres.
So which catcher do the Padres invest in? Which would you chose? Norris is the safe pick as he is already established and should improve with age. Hedges is a wild card. He has the ability defensively to be a game changer. That is really difficult to find at the catcher’s position. His bat which was left for dead has shown signs of life. Those that wrote him off at the age of 23 are going to look foolish eventually. One of the two will have to be dealt. There has been speculation about Norris playing first base, but the Padres need a power hitting first baseman. Power is not what Norris brings to the table. His value remains as a catcher, at first base, he would be a below average first baseman. That is just the plain and simple truth.
The Padres have two valuable trade chips in their young catchers. Both are under team control for another four or five seasons and at a discount rate for that matter. General manager A.J. Preller is surely going to shop around one of the catchers in an attempt to improve the ball club. The off-season for the Padres is going to be very interesting as the team has many different angles in which they may go. The catchers position is just one of the many questions for the 2016 San Diego Padres.