The emergence of Austin Hedges as a viable major-league catcher has forced the San Diego Padres’ hand a bit. Entering spring training, it’s highly likely the Padres had hoped for Hedges to start the season in Triple-A and get more seasoning, but he might just be ahead of schedule in his growth.
Sometimes it just clicks for a baseball player. The ball slows down and you find a consistency with your swing. Hedges appears to have made major strides in that area. A hot spring start after a handful of games is no reason to proclaim him an All-Star by any means, but it does give hope for the team.
At one point, Hedges was one of the top prospects in the game of baseball. His inability to consistently hit high-level minor-league pitching led many to judge him as overrated and a failure. Those same critics failed to recognize his age and his ability to bloom as a hitter with some more at-bats. Hedges’ defense will keep him in the game for a long time, but if he can be a half-way decent hitter, he could be really special.
The Padres are witnessing his growth first hand. Pitchers prefer to throw to him. That is not a secret. Players and coaches are noticing his at bats are becoming more productive. He could very well be on the cusp of a break out season. Hold on though. Hedges needs playing time and with Derek Norris currently on the roster, he has no way of playing consistently. Norris is the Padres starting catcher. That is a given.
The situation gets even more complicated in the fact the Padres dealt Casey Kelly to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt. He, like Hedges, has great defensive skills but has been limited with the bat so far in his young career. Bethancourt is out of options, so that leaves Hedges ticketed for Triple-A. It will only take a trade to save Hedges from being demoted to begin the year.
That leaves us with potential suitors for the gritty Derek Norris. The Texas Rangers have a need for a catcher and Norris could be a great fit for their team. He could provide veteran leadership to a team that is in the need of that from the catcher’s position. The Rangers have no young up-and-coming catcher waiting in the wings. They definitely have a need at the position now and into the future. Hedges could also interest the Rangers, but the team is more likely to covet the offensive-minded Norris. In fact, the Rangers have recently been linked to Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Rangers are clearly not comfortable with their current catching situation.
Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez are the Rangers’ catching tandem right now. In reality neither one has very much upside. Chirinos is 31 and Gimenez is 33. Not that age dictates the total story, but both are more suited to a backup role, especially at their current age. Chirinos just signed a one-year deal for $1.55 million and is the clear starter. Still, you have to think the Rangers have to address the need eventually.
A.J. Preller came from the Rangers organization and has vast knowledge of their system. The two teams agreed to a deal in August which sent Will Venable to the Rangers for Jon Edwards. Another one could be in the works. Adding Norris to the Rangers lineup and team would be huge for the franchise. Derek Norrris is still only 27 years old and he is under team control for the next three seasons before being eligible for free agency in 2019. Norris has decent value, but can the two teams agree on a deal?