Always lauded for his ability behind the plate as a defense-first catching prospect, Austin Hedges had a breakout at Triple-A El Paso in 2016 with a surge of power (21 homers) and a strong .326/.353/.597 line before he was promoted to San Diego in September. With Derek Norris in tow, the Padres were hesitant to leave Hedges on the Opening Day roster as a backup, and the decision to give him regular playing time at Triple-A appears to have paid off. Hedges has benefited from his time in the Pacific Coast League by playing half of his games at El Paso over the past two seasons, but his career .326/.361/.583 line at Triple-A suggests that he has nothing left to prove in the minors. The Padres certainly must have thought so, as they dealt Derek Norris to the Nationals to clear the path for Hedges to become the team's workhorse backstop. His developing power and low strikeout rate (career 16.6 percent in the minors) make him a useful cheap option in two-catcher formats.
Hedges is projected to be the starting catcher for the Padres this season, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. With the club shipping Derek Norris to Washington, Hedges is next in line to start games behind the dish. He hasn't done much offensively in his two brief stints in the majors, slashing .161/.206/.236 in 178 plate appearances. That being said, batting .326/.353/.597 with 21 homers and 82 RBI with Triple-A El Paso last season shows that there is some potential in his bat at the major league level. Even is Hedges doesn't hit out of the gates, his defensive abilities should keep him in the lineup on a regular basis.
Hedges will be recalled from Triple-A El Paso, AJ Cassavell of MLB.com reports. Hedges and five others will be rewarded with callups with El Paso's long postseason run coming to an end Tuesday night. He's no longer a prospect after playing in 56 games with the Padres a year ago, but the 24-year-old Hedges is still developing and he took a major step offensively this season (.326/.353/.597, 21 homers). With elite skills behind the plate, Hedges profiles as the possible Opening Day catcher in 2017, but it's not entirely clear how much he'll play over the remainder of this season.
Hedges finished off an amazing first half with Triple-A El Paso, going 3-5 with a double, two home runs and 8 RBI. Hedges continues to tear up Triple-A, awaiting a call back up to San Diego. With Derek Norris a potential option to be traded as the deadline nears, that time could come very soon. Even if Norris isn't traded, Hedges has done enough to force the Padres hand. He has nothing else to prove at Triple-A as he ends the first half with 16 home runs and 53 RBI in only 141 at-bats.
Hedges remains hot at Triple-A El Paso, earning him his second straight Pacific Coast League Player of the Week honors. Over his past 10 games with El Paso, Hedges is hitting .425 with seven home runs and 21 RBI. The 23-year-old, who has always been known as a defensive-first catcher, is starting to look very comfortable at the plate. On the season in just 137 at-bats, Hedges is hitting a healthy .385 with 14 home runs and 41 RBI. Another positive sign in his numbers is his low strikeout rate (14.2%). In dynasty leagues, owners may have given up on Hedges as he struggled in his short stint with the Padres last season, so this might be the last chance to buy low. With the Padres considering trading Derek Norris at the trade deadline, Hedges could be catching in San Diego sooner than later.
Hedges had a huge day Thursday, going 3-for-6 with two home runs, a single, and four RBI. Hedges has been absolutely mashing in Triple-A El Paso, hitting .380/.427/780 with 11 homers in just 28 games. Thursday also made it seven homers in as many days for the 23-year-old catcher. Padres starting catcher Derek Norris has hit much better this past month, hitting .274 with five homers in June, but one wonders what more Hedges can do to deserve a call-up.