Despite not being a flashy hitter, Austin Hedges had become one of the top catching prospects in baseball because of his tremendous defense ability. He was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft and immediately started raking. Hedges has made it all the way to AA ball despite just recently turning 21, and has scouts as well as fans just salivating over his major league ceiling.
Hedges profiles with an average bat, although there’s room to grow. His swing is fueled by big stride lengths and strong hip rotation. He can run into trouble because he tends to make his swing plane dip instead of staying as level as top prospects, but his excellent zone control time helps make up for it. Good bat speed and strong legs will help him reach double digit homers easily. He may not be more than a MLB average hitter, but as a catcher that’s a huge value bat.
He’s shown a pull heavy approach at the plate, mostly put together because of his early hip clearing. He still shows the ability to go the other way, but he’s had the most success pulling to either left or going up the middle to center.
He’s been more of a ground ball hitter, with a 42% rate in Double A so far and 32% fly balls. This still is around a league average rate, but we know grounders increase as the hitter moves up. By limiting his fly balls his power may never be much more than average, just like his contact. Still, the skills will play up because of his position, and his excellent defense will propel his value.
Even though he provides good offense, what really makes Austin Hedges special is his defense. He’s regarded among the best, if not the best, framer in the minors. The Padres have shown an organizational shift towards good framing catchers, with guys like Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera and even Nick Hundley before he was shipped off. Hedges is no different, and his defense behind the plate is plus-plus, and could be a generational talent there.
He’s not just an exceptional framer and a bringer of justice to potential base stealers, but his work with his pitchers is becoming elite as well. As Matt Wisler told Baseball America about him:
"“He’s really just a smart player. He knows what hitters are looking for and he knows us (pitchers). You are always in the flow of the game with him.”"
Wisler is in Triple A and nearing a promotion to San Diego, just like Hedges. His kind words are key to understanding just how important he will be to the Padres’ pitching staff.
For Hedges to really reach his ceiling, he needs to make sure he stays balanced at the plate and continues to hone his defensive skills. He was regarded so highly out of the draft that scouts said he could catch in the majors immediately, even though he just graduated high school. He’s a premium talent and will be a mainstay in the Padres organization for a long time. Austin Hedges is a prospect to get excited about, so be on the lookout for his impending debut.