BLUF: Best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, also owns a surprising bat.
The Player: Austin Hedges (C, San Diego Padres) – A second round pick of the Padres in 2011, the club gave him $3 million to sign at the August deadline. He debuted briefly in the Arizona Rookie and Northwest Leagues before making his full-season debut with Fort Wayne (Low-A) in 2012. Despite missing some time early in the year with shoulder stiffness, he finished the season with a .279/.334/.451 line in 96 games while gunning down 32% of would-be base stealers.
Basis of Report: Compilation – Industry Contacts
Body (6-1, 190): Thin, compact and athletic. Good present strength for his age but needs to increase strength for greater stamina over the long grind of a full season. Good catcher’s body with the athleticism to keep from slowing down too much early on.
Hit: Short, compact swing. Hands get the bat to the zone quickly and he stays inside the ball well, using the whole field with ease. His trigger includes a slight toe tap that can get exaggerated at times and throw off his timing. Good bat speed and a consistent swing path allows him to make regular, hard contact on a variety of pitches. Has potential to be an average hitter thanks to natural contact ability and solid understanding of the strike zone. Grade – 30/50
Power: Has good natural strength but lacks true in-game power at this point. Uses the whole field well and has the bat speed to drive the ball to the gaps consistently early in his career. Swing is compact and lacks loft, so home-run power could be limited without significant swing changes/development. Ability to impact the ball, particularly with added strength, should result in 10-15 home runs annually, augmented by good doubles power. Grade (raw power) – 30/40
Arm: Absolute hose. Tremendous raw arm strength. Combines arm strength with quick release and excellent accuracy. Easy plus-plus arm right now and some scouts believe the arm is elite. Consistency at pro level could push it to elite in time. Grade – 70/80
Fielding: Hard to believe he’s 18 months removed from high school. Gifted defender. Moves well behind the plate and adeptly blocks all types of pitches. Good receiver with soft hands. Receiving ability has potential to help pitchers. Commands the game and shows feel for calling pitches. Excellent catch and throw skills with powerful arm, quick feet and exceptional transfer. Potentially dominating defensive player. Gold Glove potential with some believers in elite ability. Needs minor polish at the pro level, just to allow the game to slow down for him. Grade – 60/70
Speed: Below-average raw runner. Can show a little better on longer runs from first to third or second to home. May slow down some as catching wears on him. High energy on the bases and intelligent base runner should keep him from being a problem. Grade – 40/40
Summation: Defense stands out. Absolutely terrific defensive player with incredible polish for his age. Potential complete package defensively. Blocks, receives, leads the pitching staff, throws, potential to completely control the game from behind the plate. Tremendous. More bat than originally thought. Has ability to use the whole field with at least gap power. Potential .270-.280 hitter with 10-15 home runs and 20-25 doubles. Will get to big leagues on defense alone. Should hit enough to be an All-Star level backstop. Defense could move quickly through the system but the bat will have to be proven at each level. Potential plus player overall.
Relative Risk: Moderate. Still very young and plenty of injury risk with catchers but an excellent profile.
Future: Hedges should head to High-A in 2013 and then on to Double-A in 2014. From there, his arrival in San Diego will hinge on openings above him. He will likely be ready for a shot at the MLB job in 2015 and could be a defensive standout from day one.