Largely known for his defensive abilities, the San Diego Padres tendered Austin Hedges a one-year contract but is time running out for his bat to produce?
If not for his strong verbal commitment to play collegiate baseball at UCLA, Austin Hedges would have been a first-round draft pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. As such, he fell to the second round into the waiting arms of the San Diego Padres. He’s been widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game – recording 22 defensive runs saved and a pitch frame rating of 20.7 last year – but his bat has yet to join the party.
His highest average came in 2018, which was part of a .213/.282/.429 line with 14 home runs and 37 RBI but posted a miserable .176/.252/.311 line (49 OPS+) in 102 games a year ago. The Padres tendered him a one-year, $3 million deal, avoiding arbitration, but Francisco Mejia is expected to be named the Opening Day starter and a regular at the backstop.
At 27 years of age, Hedges is under team control through the 2022 season and was linked to several trade rumors during the offseason. Our friends at the On Friar podcast also noted that they wouldn’t be surprised to see Luis Torrens grab the backup catcher job in Spring Training.
The 23-year-old played in just seven big-league games last year but played very well at the Double-A level. There, Torrens posted a .300/.373/.500 line with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 97 games.
At some point, Hedges’ lack of offense is going to be a factor whether he’s worthy of a roster spot. Unless the other eight guys in the lineup are producing like crazy, placing him the batting order is going to hinder the team’s overall productivity.
That said, his pitch framing and game-calling abilities are essential for a young Padres’ rotation, so manager, Jayce Tingler, will have to find that happy medium. Combined with Torrens’ potentially making a convincing case during Spring Training and top-prospect, Luis Campusano‘s anticipated arrival at some point in 2021, Hedges’ days in a Padres uniform may be numbered.
It will be vital for him to showcase something on offense that indicates he’s worthy of keeping around in some capacity beyond this year.