Countdown to San Diego Padres Opening Day: 81 days.
Good Sunday afternoon, San Diego Padres fans. We’re one day closer to Opening Day 2019, putting our countdown at 81 days until March 28th, when the Padres and San Francisco Giants square off for game one of 162.
As we have done with each day in our countdown, we find some statistic or jersey number that corresponds and either take a look at what that stat means for 2019 or we take a moment to reflect on a player/moment from the past as we work through this long, cold winter offseason.
For today, let’s look at 81, the number of starts made by Austin Hedges in 2018. Making 80 starts behind the plate and one as a designated hitter, Hedges experienced an uptick in production over the course of the second half of the season, leading to some optimism entering 2019.
Two separate trips to the disabled list limited his playing time last year, yet Hedges experienced his most successful season at the plate in his four-year major league career.
His overall stat line wasn’t pretty, but it was an improvement in nearly every single offensive metric. Hedges slashed .231/.282/.429/.711 with 14 home runs, 14 doubles, and his first two career triples. His walk rate improved a touch to 6.4% and his strikeout rate dropped slightly to 27.6%, with his ability to put offspeed pitches in play increasing tremendously after whiffing on nearly 50% of offspeed pitches thrown against him in 2017.
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Hedges brings an enormous skill set to the roster with his defense. Defensive metrics may not have liked him as much in 2018 as they did in 2017, however, he is still one of the best defensive catchers in the game, on a roster full of very young arms at the major league level and plenty more quickly on the way. When the entire lineup fails to hit, the batting average and OBP of Hedges is highlighted even more. Would he be as scrutinized for his offense if he was surrounded by a lineup that produced? Would he be given somewhat of a pass due to his defensive work? Possibly.
Trade rumors surrounding Hedges have swirled all offseason as AJ Preller attempts to strike a deal for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto and bring in front-line starting pitching. But with a current starting rotation led by Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, Hedges will continue to provide value behind the plate. Francisco Mejia is an elite prospect with the potential to be a solid major leaguer for years to come, but he isn’t ready for full-time catching duties.
As long as Hedges doesn’t begin his season like he did last year (.091 BA in March, .188 BA in both April and May), he will be the primary starter behind the plate, without question. Mejia also provides versatility, with the ability to play in the outfield after working there with the Cleveland Indians, meaning that if his bat also develops next year, there’s still a way to fit both of these young bats into the lineup.
Enjoy another day of NFL playoffs and we will see you tomorrow for another day in our countdown. In the meantime, check out more Padres news, rumors, and analysis from around our site here.