Does Austin Hedges Replace Yasmani Grandal As Padres Catcher?
Yasmani Grandal a breakout season from journeyman Rene Rivera has left the San Diego Padres strong behind the plate. After hitting .225 with Double-A San Antonio in 2014, doubts persist concerning top prospect Austin Hedges. Is the top-50 prospect going to hit enough to start at the MLB level, or will the top defender be relegated to back up duty?
Video by Mike Rosenbaum
Listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, the 2011 second-round pick would benefit from 10-15 pounds of muscle development. As a 22-year-old catcher, he has time to fill out, so this is not a cause for concern. Hedges possesses the wide-shouldered frame necessary to add extra strength. With an impressive makeup, he should have no issue doing so.
Austin Hedges is a joy to watch behind the plate. The 2013 Futures Game selection is fundamentally and mechanically sound. With a low crouch, his butt nearly touching the ground. The two-time minor league All-Star possesses quiet hands, moving them swiftly and quietly while framing. Hedges is light on his feet, blocking errant pitches, making passed balls and wild pitches a rarity. Despite average-to-above average arm speed, the Padres top prospect is able to post elite pop times due to footwork and a quick release. However, accuracy is an issue at times as he’ll rush throws. Defensively, Austin Hedges is a future gold glove candidate who’ll be a defensive standout from day one.
While his defensive ability makes the native Californian a near-lock for major league time, his ability to stick as an everyday player will depend on the development of his bat. Mike Newman got a look at Hedges early in 2013:
In batting practice, Hedges was visibly frustrated as he struggled to barrel pitches. A shoulder-heavy swing caused his hands to drag through the strike zone.
Hedges didn’t use the big part of the field, but a double down the left field line put my concerns about his swing to rest. In his load, He stayed tall, kept his elbow in, and dropped the barrel on the ball beautifully.
His next plate appearance ended in a weak popup to the right side, and a repeat of the mechanical flaws from batting practice. This is par for the course for most young hitters. Consistency is developed over time, through repetition. Game experience will also help Hedges identify pitches to drive.
His right-handed stroke flashes above average power for a catcher
While the mechanical issues noted have been alleviated, average bat speed caps his offensive ceiling and poor pitch recognition doesn’t help. The highly-ranked catching prospect struggles against fringe breaking pitches due to a failure to recognize spin. As of now, Hedges possesses power to pull-side only but shouldn’t be as limited with added strength. A pull heavy approach is not a recipe for success without plus bat speed and will present problems against elite velocity. This is highlighted by a .195 batting average in 2014 against pitchers who were included in their team’s top-20 prospects. In order to succeed at the highest level, Hedges will require a more balanced approach to properly utilize his level swing plane and average raw power. When Dioner Navarro (.274/.317/.395) is a league average offensive catcher, Austin Hedges doesn’t need to mash to be a first-division catcher. An average of .240 and double-digit home runs is enough.
Tool Present Future Projected Role First Division Starting Catcher Hitting Ability 20 35 Power 25 40 Speed 45 40 Fielding Ability 70 70 Arm 50 60
Owning Austin Hedges
Finding a fantasy baseball catcher worth owning is difficult. For years, patient owners have waited for Travis D’Arnaud to develop, yet 2014 was his first productive season (103 wRC+). On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yan Gomes was dealt as a forgettable trade piece by the Blue Jays before hitting 21 home runs this season. It’s a coin flip, but the more productive offensive catchers in baseball are valued at $20 or above on auction day. Unfortunately, Austin Hedges is not expected to break out offensively and has PETCO Park to look forward to. In 5×5 leagues, he’s a player to avoid. Having drafted him in the TDGX Experts League, Hedges was picked late and cut early. Consider owning hedges in the deepest leagues where every at bat count. His defense will earn MLB plate appearances and Austin Hedges has the strength to run into a fastball now and then. But until the bat proves otherwise, it’s a fools errand to expect Hedges’ offensive game to click. – Mike Newman
6 Oct 2014 / Grant Schiller /
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