After a development process with its ups and downs, the San Diego Padres are finally prepared to hand the keys of the catcher position over to Austin Hedges.
“Nothing in the game is more important than the pitcher-catcher relationship” says “Mike Scioscia, “It’s the foundation of any team.”
Scioscia may be biased, having played for 13 years with the Dodgers as the primary catcher, but he also has more than a little credibility. He helped lead LA to two World Series victories during his tenure, and worked with pitchers like Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser. As manager of the Angels, he led the team to its first and only championship in 2002.
This year the Padres will have a young guy behind the plate who has already won rave reviews from pitchers. Consider the Padres fortunate to have a talent like Austin Hedges in the system. Universally regarded as the best defensive catcher in the draft in 2011, he fell to the second round because of his strong commitment to UCLA.
“For as long as he possibly can, and to the best of his ability, Austin Hedges works attentively with his pitcher to avoid the (mostly) unavoidable — keeping batters from reaching base,” wrote Corey Brock for MLB.com in 2013. “He does so in any number of ways; it’s sequencing pitches, framing them, and pitch selection, as well.”
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In the last two years Hedges has had sporadic playing time with the big league club working as a backup to Derek Norris. He spent most of last year with the Chihuahuas, helping El Paso to its first Pacific Coast League championship. After spending most of the season with the big league team in 2015, going back to the bus leagues could have adversely affected Hedge’s attitude.
“There was some frustration at times,” Rod Barajas, former catcher and now El Paso manager told Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune. “It didn’t show in his work ethic, though. He still went out there every day, taking his batting practice, taking his bullpens seriously. He took care of his body. He was constantly in the weight room.”
And now the Padres will hand a leadership role over to the 24-year old, fully expecting Hedges to get the best from a cobbled together starting staff, but also looking to the future.