There is a tremendous amount of depth in the San Diego Padres’ system in regards to the catcher position.
The San Diego Padres have come under fire recently for the play of their catchers. The team and its fans are torn on who should start the majority of games, not just in 2019 but into the future as well.
Let’s take a look at the current MLB catchers and the prospects trying to take their jobs.
Austin Hedges – San Diego Padres
Austin Hedges is arguably the best defensive catcher in all of baseball. His blocking, receiving, and framing are all elite traits. His experience and veteran leadership is invaluable to the young pitchers and catchers for that matter. Hedges studies the game plan and is in sync with all his pitchers and coaches. Nobody seems to know the game plan as well as Hedges, as he calls a fantastic game and has led the league in defensive runs saved at times in 2019. While his arm might not be elite, it’s average and is easily masqued by the rest of his elite defensive traits.
Where his game lacks has been well documented amongst Padre fans. Hedges has a lifetime batting average of .205, and on top of that, he is in the midst of a down year. If Hedges were to bat .220, there would not be a debate over who the starting catcher should be. However, his current average of .185 is paltry. A two-way catcher is certainly a great player to have on any team, but they are the rarest breed in all of baseball. Offense should be, and is, the lowest priority of a catcher. His primary responsibility is to his pitcher. A pitchers best friend is a good catcher, and Hedges fits that bill. A veteran catcher is a staple on most championship teams. Sandy Leon for the Red Sox, Brian McCann for the Astros, David Ross for the Cubs for examples. Austin Hedges could and should be that veteran presence needed for a young rotation to succeed during a deep playoff run.
Francisco Mejia – San Diego Padres
At the beginning of the season, Francisco Mejia was almost the polar opposite of Austin Hedges. Mejia has a smooth, short, yet powerful swing from both sides of the plate. His bat is his most intriguing tool. Mejia is a guy any coach would want in the lineup every single day. He also possesses a very strong and accurate arm, a defining trait of a catcher. Although he has made huge strides, Mejia is a work in progress behind the plate. His framing has improved, but his blocking and receiving leave much to be desired.
Catcher is generally not considered a position that MLB teams have players learn on the job, so to speak. However, the Padres seem committed to keeping Mejia as a catcher. If he can continue to improve the defensive parts of his game, Mejia could be a star in the league. Given what the Padres gave up to acquire him, Mejia is due to receive a majority of the starts behind the plate for the rest of the season. In the offseason and spring training is when he can cement his spot as the team’s catcher of the future. If not, he may be moved to the outfield where his bat could be in the lineup every day. He would be an average corner outfielder with a little bit of work, but there’s no doubt they will get his potential elite bat in the lineup.
Austin Allen – Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas
Austin Allen has spent some of 2019 on the Padres when needed. Allen is an offensive-minded catcher that bats from the left side. His power numbers in hitter-friendly Triple-A El Paso are great, slugging .600 with an OPS of .971. In his limited at-bats with the Padres, his offense has not translated, with a .250 batting average and only three RBIs in 21 games. This is hardly enough games to be judged by. His arm strength is adequate, but he struggles to throw out runners. Allen also needs improvement in his overall defensive skills behind the plate. He has shown improvement over the years, but he is firmly behind Mejia. Allen will need to improve defensively, and his power will need to translate to the big league club if he is given another chance.
Luis Torrens – Double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles
In 2016 A.J. Preller made moves to acquire the top three Rule-5 draft picks. Torrens was taken from the New York Yankees system and acquired through the Cincinnati Reds. The Padres were able to keep Torrens on the 25-man roster the entire year ensuring he stayed on the team. After being shuffled around the minors, Torrens was sent to Double-A Amarillo to start 2019.
Torrens has been strong defensively since his days in the Yankees minor league system. There was always the potential in his swing that didn’t always materialize. Torrens batted .280 last year for the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm. He has improved this year in Amarill0, raising his OPS to .851. Torrens has legitimate two-way potential. If he can show he has the same offensive potential that Mejia has proven, he can take one of the two spots on the MLB roster next year. He just needs a strong spring training to showcase the talent. Time is running out for the Padres to promote Torrens back to the majors and keep him on the roster, as he will enter his arbitration years in 2020. If Mejia is moved to the outfield, Torrens could even be considered the front runner to take one of the two catching spots on the team’s roster.
Luis Campusano – High-A Lake Elsinore Storm
After the most recent update to MLB.com prospect pipeline, a new name appeared in the Padres top ten. Luis Campusano is the number nine ranked player in the organization. The Padres are deep at catcher within the minors, but Campusano may be the best one of the bunch. When drafted, Campusano was known for being stellar defensively and had potential at the plate. He has developed into a well-rounded player and is dominating with the Lake Elsinore Storm in High-A. He is top five in the league in almost every offensive category, all while being stellar behind the plate. Numbers like these normally get a prospect promoted. However, Torrens is keeping him in Lake Elsinore until the end of the season.
Luis Campusano is the perfect mold of what you would want a catcher to look like. Listed at 6-foot and 215-pounds, he has broad shoulders and a muscular build. His size improves his blocking, but his athleticism and twitchy instincts allow him to be a dynamic defensive catcher. With a consistently powerful bat, a strong arm, and being sound defensively, the sky’s the limit for Campusano. He was also recently named BaseballAmerica.com’s Best Batting Prospect for California High-A. Being ranked number nine in the organization may be a little low for this catcher.
Blake Hunt – Low-A Fort Wayne Tincaps
Blake Hunt was drafted 69th overall in 2017, the same draft the Padres took Luis Campusano. Likely a value pick, Hunt’s size, arm strength, and defensive capabilities were just too good for AJ Preller to pass up. Blake Hunt measures in big for a catcher at 6-foot-4 and is listed at 215 pounds. He had an offer from Pepperdine that he turned down to sign with the Padres. Over the past two years, Hunt has made strides on both sides of his game. Hunt has a long way to go to get to the majors, but the framework is there for a reliable defensive catcher that can develop consistency as a hitter.
The Padres are deep at catcher. Every level of the organization has a player that has major league potential. It makes adding a catcher in the offseason seem counterproductive to what the Padres have been building. Mejia could be switched to the outfield, and Hedges could even be the minority catcher, making room for Torrens or Allen. Even if neither worked out after 2020, there would theoretically still be Campusano to take over. A free agent would only hinder the process. The only scenario that would work is trading prospect catchers for a proven two-way catcher. That would, however, be a major shift in what A.J. Preller has been doing up to this point. Mejia and Hedges will continue to platoon catcher for the rest of the season. At that point, Preller and company will have decisions to make.