The San Diego Padres are experiencing a youth movement. For the catcher position, this means that young Austin Hedges should start in 2017 over veteran Derek Norris.
Despite having one of the roster’s more dependable players at catcher, the San Diego Padres struggled at the position in 2016.
Derek Norris played 116 games at the position in 2016, far and away more than any of the other catchers. The rest of the time, San Diego split catching duties between Austin Hedges, Hector Sanchez, and Christian Bethancourt.
As 2017 approaches, there are only two true options for the Padres to start at catcher. Norris, the veteran, or Hedges, who is entering his third season.
The benefits to playing Norris much more heavily in 2016 were his experience, as well as his 2.93 million dollar contract. But as the team is now faced with more options with the struggling catcher, it’s time to turn the page and give the catching duties over to Hedges.
Norris is in the prime of his career, yet he had his worst season at the plate this past year. Hitting .186 in 458 plate appearances, the former Oakland Athletic looked slow and lost when up to bat.
To the organization’s credit, they gave the 27-year-old every opportunity to turn his season around. He didn’t, and there is no need to prolong his time starting behind the plate.
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Hedges, on the other hand, is a solid all around baseball player with a ton of upside. Though his major league career average is just .161, these opportunities have come sporadically over just 161 at bats. The 24-year-old has not been given the chance to produce for a large chunk of a season as Norris has. For a young team, allowing their young players to gain experience at the major league level is paramount.
As for what this means for Norris, he could still play some sort of role. Of course, to many, a trade is ideal as Norris is not cheap. While his experience could be valuable to a very young group of catchers, it isn’t worth another couple million to keep him mostly on the bench. But as poorly as he performed at the plate in 2016, it isn’t beneficial in the long run to start him either.
The Padres can’t wait for Norris to wake up any longer. In order to keep their rebuild on schedule, the organization must begin trusting the younger players. If nothing else, they will at least get an accurate read on Hedges by giving him an extended opportunity. This will inform the team whether or not they will need help at the position, and keep the rebuilding process flowing as smoothly as a rebuilding process can flow.