Austin Hedges debuted on May 4 at the age of 22 after tearing up AAA. He was touted as a fabulous defensive catcher but a question at the plate. That scouting report was accurate for his rookie year.
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The Padres’ backup catcher finished with a .168/.215/.248/.463 slashline. It was bad with no redeeming qualities. No power to offset a poor on-base percentage and vice versa. While Hedges improved in the second half, he still only hit for a .245 OBP. That won’t cut it in the big leagues regardless of how stellar he was defensively.
Thankfully, there is hope. Every year Hedges was promoted, he hit poorly in his first year and adjusted to become average in the next. If that pattern plays out in the majors, he should become a decent offensive player.
The reason Hedges made it to the show at age 22 was for his defense. He gunned down 33-percent of would-be base stealers – five percent better than the league average.
It is in the more advanced metrics where Hedges shines. His 0.6 defensive WAR seems unexciting. But had he caught as many innings as Derek Norris, his dWAR would have been 1.8 at the rate he was going. That is a wonderful dWAR. To put it into perspective, Yadier Molina – the poster boy for great defensive catchers – had a dWAR of 1.6 in 2015.
In pitch framing, Hedges was one of the best in baseball. He added 41.7 strikes according to Baseball Prospectus, which was good for sixteenth in MLB. The aforementioned Molina gave his pitchers an additional 55.0 strikes, but did so with three times as many chances. In fact, all of the 15 players who added more strikes had at least 30-percent more chances than Hedges. Basically, Hedges is a great pitch-framer.
From what we can tell thus far, Hedges will enter 2016 as the backup catcher. But considering the disappointing season of Derek Norris, he could push to become the starter if his offense meets just the league average.
Due to his detrimental offensive performance, Hedges’ overall grade is a D, but there should be a great deal of hope attached to that grade.
Total Offense: F
Total Defense: A
2015 Season: D
Hope for 2016: B+