Just a few days after the best catching prospect in baseball, Blake Swihart, was called up by the Boston Red Sox, the San Diego Padres are calling up the best defensive catching prospect, Austin Hedges. Rarely do you project awards for prospects, but Hedges has a realistic floor of a Gold Glove catcher.
With a great arm and even better feet behind the plate, Hedges has thrown out 34% of would-be base-stealers in his minor league career, and 40% since his full season debut in 2012. Watching him catch a game is an absolute joy. He receives 99 MPH fastballs with such ease it looks like he is playing catch with a 10 year old.
He has incredibly soft hands and rarely, if ever, jabs for a ball. His framing numbers will surely be among the best in the league and he already shows an advanced feel for calling the game. Hedges draws natural comparisons to a young Yadier Molina thanks to his truly elite defensive profile, but his offense projects more to the young Molina rather than the great all-around player we know today.
There was a time I thought Hedges would be able to improve enough offensively to hit .270 and run into 15 home runs, but I am become more skeptical the more I see him. He hit .324 in Triple-A this year before the call up, which raises his career average to .256. He is not a big strike out guy, being set down on strikes at just a 17% rate, but he doesn’t walk a whole lot either, walking at a mere 7% rate.
He has just 23 home runs in his 325 minor league games, and he could put up low double-digit homers a couple times in his career, but it is not something to count on. When Hedges does make contact, it is often via the groundball or line drive variety. He is a double play risk given he runs like, well, a catcher.
Bottom line, if you are looking for Hedges to make an impact on your fantasy team, you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for him to impact your baseball team, he could bring great value purely with his defense and anything he does with the bat is just gravy.