The catching situation for the San Diego Padres is slightly complicated at the moment. The team has Derek Norris, Austin Hedges and Christian Bethancourt as back stops, but the team will likely only carry two on their major league roster to start the season.
Norris is a lock to be the starter at this point. He has the most to offer offensively and his defense is not horrible. Yes he might have some issues, but all in all he is a quality receiver for the Friars. The 27-year-old catcher was overworked way too much early in the season and struggled down the stretch. He, if managed correctly could eclipse all his career offensive numbers.
The San Diego Padres dealt Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to the Oakland Athletics last season for Derek Norris. The catcher has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse and has also improved his defense, which was an issue at one point in his career. He threw out runners last year at an impressive rate all though his skills in pitching framing and other statistics still need work. Don’t get me wrong I am not a huge stats guy, but just watching Norris you can plainly see from time to time he does not look comfortable behind the dish. He does however look better than he has when he was first developing in the minor leagues and has shown the ability to improve.
Austin Hedges looks to have taken another positive step in his development. Which is very exciting. He already is one of the best defenders in the game of baseball, but his bat is a work in progress. To his credit, he has worked hard on it and become a tougher out at the plate. Hedges has made the adjustments and that is a positive sign for his future. He is still only 23-years-old. He could turn the corner offensively relatively soon. Two home runs on Tuesday is a great sign for the young backstop.
Both catchers are extremely valuable; all be it for almost totally different reasons. Norris provides offensive punch to a traditionally weak position, while Hedges provides youth and that gold glove caliber defense. Teams will surely be calling if they haven’t been already. The Padres can and will get a trade done eventually.
The third catcher for the Padres is no slouch either. Bethancourt was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Casey Kelley in the offseason. He has great athleticism, but like Hedges has some issues being consistent. While Hedges needs to be more aggressive and attack the ball, Bethancourt needs to recognize pitches and cut down on the wild swings. He looks really bad against breaking balls right now.
Bethancourt has nice value because he is still only 24 years old and could develop into something very special as well. It has been reported by brand new hitting coach Alan Zinter that the newly acquired catcher has some of the rawest power of anyone in the Padres camp. That says a lot with the names of Jabari Blash, Wil Myers, Brett Wallace and Matt Kemp in the Padres camp. Bethancourt has power and defense and that alone should provide him at the very least a long major league career as a backup. With some minor adjustments he could easily be more than that.
The more you see of Hedges you realize that he is nearly major league ready. Sure there will be growing pains with him, but he has shown progression with the bat which bodes well for his future at the plate. The Padres at this point would have to send Hedges to Triple-A to keep this trio together within the organization this season. Hedges has minor league options left while Bethancourt does not. That will surely land Austin Hedges in El Paso if there is not a trade before the start of the season.
A.J. Preller and the Padres have a huge choice to make. They brought in Bethancourt so I really do not see them moving him. It will come down to Hedges and Norris. Eventually one has to be dealt. Both men are starting catchers in the league and deserve a chance to play in 130 games a year. The question is which catcher do you keep and which catcher do you deal? Stay tuned, I have a feeling before the start of the season there could be a move or two for the Friars.