Hedges, Hedges, Hedges. For the last several years, Hedges has been one of the San Diego Padres most highly touted prospects and has long been called the Padres “Catcher of the future.” Despite this, even though they did trade away both Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera last offseason, the Padres still went out and got young catcher Derek Norris. If Hedges was so highly touted and was supposed to have such a bright future with the Padres, why did the Padres acquire Derek Norris to be the catcher of the future? It is really a simple answer; the Padres clearly value offense over defense at the catcher’s position going forward. They traded away two defensive minded catchers in Grandal and Rivera, and overlooked Hedges, in favor of an offense first catcher in Norris.
Now let’s get to the real purpose of this article. This article is not to discuss Derek Norris or evaluate the choice of offense over defense at the catcher position. The purpose of this article is to ask the question: Will Austin Hedges ever hit? Or more specifically will Austin Hedges ever hit enough to justify him being the starting catcher of the Padres future. I have written before about how Derek Norris is the catcher of the future because of Hedges offensive struggles. However if Hedges were to start hitting only marginally better his defense would be justification enough for a starting position in the Padres lineup going forward. The question is if Hedges will be able to hit enough to justify replacing Norris as the catcher and perhaps moving Norris to another position on the diamond.
Austin Hedges is still really just a kid. He is only 22 and turns 23 in August. He was born in San Juan Capistrano, California and also graduated high school in the same area. He was the Padres second round pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft straight out of high school. He’s been rated as a top 100 prospect for the last four years and has gotten a good amount of attention both within the Padres organization and from outside the organization. He was most recently rated the #51 prospect overall by MLB.com prior to the season and the #23 prospect overall by Baseball Prospectus. For many he has long been the number one catcher in all of the minor leagues.
For the first time in his young career Hedges has been called up to the majors and has gotten a chance to prove himself. So far this season Hedges has a slash line of .111/.128/.200 in forty-nine plate appearances in only twenty games. This is obviously too small of a sample size to really judge his performance but it really is not a great sign for his future. In AA last season he hit only .225 and he did not hit over .300 in his Padres career until this season with AAA El Paso. In twenty-one games, and seventy-nine plate appearances, with El Paso this season Hedges hit .324/.392/.521. With the struggles of Wil Nieves and the injury to Tim Federowicz, this was enough to warrant a call up to the Padres big league roster.
Austin Hedges has always been considered the best defensive catcher in all of the minor leagues and he has not disappointed so far in his time in the big leagues. He has matched Derek Norris in both RAA and plus calls behind the plate in nearly one sixth of the playing time of Norris. This shows just how good Hedges is and how high his ceiling would be if he were to improve on his offense. Hedges struggled offensively throughout his minor league career but finally seemed to be putting it together before his call up earlier in the year. Some have even said that his early call up may have even hindered his development this season.
While Hedges has struggled to find a balanced offense for almost his entire minor league career, it seems there should be some hope with him. Once Tim Federowicz is completely healthy it is very likely that Hedges will go back to the minor leagues to finish out his season with the El Paso Chihuahuas. While Hedges has struggled offensively in his limited playing time at the big league level, he is still only 22 years old and still may have a bright future yet.
Austin Hedges is likely never going to be a .300 hitter but if he can hit around .250 and provide some offense at the big league level, Hedges certainly can have a good career as a starting catcher because of his stellar defensive skill set. The best thing for him right now is to go back to the minor leagues and have the rest of this year for further development. If he continues to hit well at the minor league level for the rest of this season, it is very likely that he could find himself a spot on the big league roster next season. Whether it is as a back up, or perhaps as a starter, remains to be seen but we should still give Austin Hedges the benefit of the doubt when analyzing his performance so far and room for further development going forward.