San Diego Padres: Good news along with the bad
Even though Austin Hedges is a young catcher, it is quickly becoming clear that the San Diego Padres backstop is strong behind the plate, even if he struggles offensively.
On the heels of the news that Hunter Renfroe has been banished to the minor leagues, Keith Law, ESPN Senior Writer, just named Austin Hedges the top catcher glove in all of baseball over Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals; Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves; Martin Maldonado, Los Angeles Angels, and Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants. According to Law, Wilson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs has the top throwing arm of all backstops.
Law also wrote that Hedges is “third in Baseball Prospectus’s pitcher-framing metric and in its overall fielding runs metric for catchers, but he’s a better receiver and blocker than the two guys ahead of him in that metric”, namely Flowers and the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal. Undoubtedly, Padres pitchers will not be surprised by this evaluation.
Nor have evaluators been surprised. In his preseason predictions for “Breakout Candidates at Every Position Entering 2017,” Bleacher Report’s Jacob Shafer singled out Hedges, as well as the Rockies’ Tom Murphy and Brewers’ Andrew Susac at catcher.
Last month, Padres’ pitcher Clayton Richard told San Diego Union Tribune reporter Dennis Lin that he considers “catching at this level to be the toughest thing in athletics”. Richard and other Padres’ pitchers have repeatedly praised Hedges for his defense as well as game calling skills and relationships with the men on the mound.
From spring training on, Hedges has worked to build those relationships. The 2017 pitching staff was not built to win and has a collective 4.62 ERA ranking 11th out of 30 teams, a better showing than should have been expected with several standout performances by starters.
In the 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg last Saturday, Padres’ starter Travis Wood pitched seven innings for the first time in over two years while giving up three hits and one run. He threw 36 pitches in the first, 13 to Anthony Rendon, but needed only 65 the rest of the way. Wood gave credit to the defense as well as Hedges’ game calling.
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Twice this year Richards has pitched complete games, a rarity in today’s game, one a shutout against the Phillies August 16, and the other in a win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in May. Earlier this year, rookie Dinelson Lamet gave up only one run to the World Champion Chicago Cubs in his Petco Park debut. Hedges caught the game and hit a two-run homer and two-run double in a 6-2 win
Bleacher Report’s Shafer had predicted that Hedges’ offensive production would improve in 2017 thanks to his role as everyday catcher. While Hedges overall batting stats’ hardly impress, his power surge does. He ranks sixth in home runs among all major league catchers with 16. Gary Sanchez of the Yankees ranks first with 25 homers, the Royals’ Salvador Perez second with 21.
In his first full year, Hedges has certainly lived up to his reputation as a first-class defender. His offense will never catch up, but his improvement at the plate certainly bodes well.