The youth movement of the San Diego Padres is well represented by the catcher position, as fans ought to be ready to embrace Austin Hedges as the new starter.
With just days before pitchers and catchers report, it is about to get real for the San Diego Padres and Austin Hedges. The third year catcher is preparing to open a season as the starter for the first time in his career, an exciting time for both Hedges and the fanbase.
Padres fans have been hearing about Hedges for five years now, ever since he was drafted in the second round of 2011’s draft. He has been touted as the catcher of the future, and while the 24-year-old has developed on schedule, fans are undoubtedly a bit antsy to see what he can do with the intention of starting an entire season.
One thing is for sure; Hedges has had plenty of opportunity to develop. And while fans may be anxious to see him play at the catcher position after suffering through a season with Derek Norris, the wait will be worth it in the long run.
Hedges spent most of 2015 and 2016 in AAA El Paso, but has started 48 games behind the plate in the majors during this time. His defense has already proven to be a step ahead of that of Norris, with a stronger arm at this point in his development and certainly better reflexes.
At the plate, the native of Gardena, California has a lot of room to grow, but shows potential. Hitting just .161 in his major league career, there is reason to be skeptical of the decision to trade Norris and presumably make Hedges the starter. But fans must remember that these statistics were garnered in just 161 at bats, an extremely small sample size.
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A more accurate representation of Hedges’ offensive capabilities are his 2016 numbers in AAA El Paso. With the Chihuahuas, the right-handed catcher hit .326 in 331 at bats, and pounded out 21 home runs. Of course, this is against minor league pitching, but it does show steady improvement from 2015’s stats.
Since Hedges only played in eight games with the Padres in 2016, his .125 average has to be taken with a grain of salt. This is how these stats can be deceiving. More relevant than anything though is the eye test, which Hedges passes with ease. And plus, he won’t have too much pressure coming in even as the only capable every day starter, since he will hit eighth or ninth in this lineup.
After spending two full seasons going back and forth from El Paso and San Diego, Austin Hedges is well prepared to fill the starting role. Fans should be excited, as this is yet another young piece of the roster coming together. Nothing is more exciting than a prospect making and imprint at the major league level for the first time. This spring, Hedges is about to provide fans with this thrilling experience.