Padres catcher Austin Hedges has unlocked his power with a simple mechanical change
Austin Hedges started the season in an 0-for-24 slump, but he's hit four home runs in the last week
In the last few years we've seen several teams tear things down and begin a rebuild, and perhaps no current club is as deeply committed to starting over as the San Diego Padres. They're near the bottom of the league in payroll, .
One of the young players the Padres plan to build around going forward is 24-year-old catcher Austin Hedges. Hedges came up through the minors with a reputation for being an elite defensive catcher, though there have long been questions about his bat. That remains true even after last season, in which he hit .326/.353/.597 with 21 home runs in 82 Triple-A games.
So far this year Hedges, who has started 15 of San Diego's 18 games, is hitting .176/.236/.451 (85 OPS+) in 56 plate appearances. That batting line doesn't tell the whole story though. Hedges started the season in an ugly 0-for-24 slump. But, over the last week and a half, he's gone 9 for 28 (.321) with two doubles and four home runs.
Friday night, in his club's win over the Miami Marlins (SD 5, MIA 3), Hedges smacked a long three-run home run in the seventh inning. It was his fourth home run in the last six days. Here's the video:
According to MLB.com's A.J. Cassavell, Hedges has unlocked his power thanks to a relatively simple mechanical tweak. He was starting his hands just a split second later than he had in the past, which meant he couldn't get to the ball as quickly as usual. The Padres worked with Hedges to correct that.
Here are some more details from Cassavell:
"We showed him video, brought his attention to that," said Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter. "He was like, 'Oh, easy.' And he went out the next day and hit a home run off R.A. Dickey. He's been working on it since, just putting his hands back in sequence."
"My hands weren't in sync with my lower half," Hedges said. "It was really just about getting them all synced up. ... It wasn't a huge adjustment. It was very small. It's something I already did."
"He's made a few mechanical adjustments over the past year and a half," Zinter said. "When you make all these adjustments, you can get out of sequence. We've been working on the leg kick, and his timing, and in the process, his hands got a little bit out of sequence."
The Padres essentially view Hedges as their Yadier Molina. He's going to be their rock behind the plate and help guide the pitching staff. Whatever he gives them on offense is a bonus -- though, clearly, Hedges has some skills. He should be more than a zero at the bat. League average offense with his glove will make him an All-Star.
This is Hedges' first season as the starting catcher -- he had 178 plate appearances as a backup from 2015-16 -- and that first season as a starter is always tough for a young backstop. They have to learn the pitching staff, learn hitters around the league, and put in so much time reviewing scouting reports that their offense typically takes a back seat. Not everyone comes up and rakes right away like, say, Buster Posey.
It's no secret the Padres, who are 8-10 and have been outscored by an MLB-worst 26 runs, are years away from contention. Their goal right now is to acquire young players and develop them into their next winning core. Hedges is very much part of this core, and if this latest mechanical tweak helps him reach his offensive ceiling, he'll be much more than the club's defense-first backstop going forward.