San Diego Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges begun the season on a tear, batting .367 with a .446 on-base percentage through 16 games for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. During that time span, he’s collected eight extra-base hits and has more walks than strikeouts.
The 22-year old backstop made adjustments to his swing in the offseason and has seen significant improvements in production. After another season struggling at the plate, Hedges’ stock was on the decline. He batted only .225 with a .268 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage across 113 games in Double-A.
He showed potential as a gap-to-gap hitter, but had trouble adjusting to off-speed pitches and breaking balls on the outside of the plate.
Hedges knows his limitations and has focused on driving the ball to all fields, saying to Fangraphs.com:
"“I’m obviously not a speed guy, so I need to drive the ball. I try to stay to the big part of the field and look for balls I can be aggressive on and hit for doubles into the gaps. I try to look for the ball in the middle of the plate and stay in the big part of the field.”"
Defensively, however, he performed on an elite level. He threw out 38 percent of attempted base-stealers while allowing only six passed balls. Hedges’ bread and butter has always been on the defensive end. With a quick release, soft hands, and excellent lateral movement behind the plate, he could arguably handle a major league staff immediately.
More from MLB Prospects
- Is Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Ivan Melendez the next Pete Alonso?
- Los Angeles Dodgers prospect talk: Catching up with Hunter Feduccia
- MLBPA secures major victory for Minor League Baseball players
- Phillies: Breaking down the prospects fighting for an Opening Day spot
- What the XFL can learn from minor league baseball
With San Diego’s acquisition of Derek Morris, Hedges had little opportunity to become a starter during Spring Training, instead being sent down to minor league camp. Even with backup catcher Tim Federowicz sidelined with a knee injury for three to six months, he wasn’t considered for a spot on the 40-man roster.
With those two in front of him, it was thought Hedges may have even become a trade piece in the trade that brought Wil Myers to San Diego.
Being used as trade bait is long ways away from being the Padres 2011 second round pick and eventual top prospect in the organization.
After playing only nine games in 2011, he played 96 games in Class-A where he hit .279 with ten home runs, 56 RBIs, and a .334 on-base percentage.
He spent the first 66 games of the following season batting .270 in High-A before being promoted to Double-A for 20 games. His late season stint in Double-A didn’t go nearly as well as he lost over 40 percentage points in his average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
That lack of production continued in 2014 where he struck out at a higher percentage (19.5%) and walked at a lower percentage (5.0%). This season, he’s halved his strikeout percentage, lowering it to 9.4 percent while almost tripling his walk rate to 13.2 percent.
More from Call to the Pen
- Philadelphia Phillies, ready for a stretch run, bomb St. Louis Cardinals
- Philadelphia Phillies: The 4 players on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore
- Boston Red Sox fans should be upset over Mookie Betts’ comment
- Analyzing the Boston Red Sox trade for Dave Henderson and Spike Owen
- 2023 MLB postseason likely to have a strange look without Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals
Although it’s unlikely Hedges keeps hitting at those levels of production, he still profiles as a major league starter if he can hit around .250 with 10+ home runs while providing his signature defense.
With Norris locked in behind the plate, it will be difficult for Hedges to see any time in the majors this year. If Norris gets injured, however, or if the Padres fall out of playoff contention and consider trading him, Hedges could get the chance for a late-season call up if he continues to perform at a satisfactory level.
In the meantime, the extra at-bats in Triple-A should be helpful to his development and give the Padres some extra time to evaluate whether he can handle Major League pitching.