Not very often does a San Diego Padres prospect receive national attention during an offseason, but things have been a little different around the city of San Diego of late.
2011 second-round pick Austin Hedges, drafted out of high school, has had his name in a lot of baseball observers’ mouths heading into Spring Training. Ranked the no. 1 prospect in the Padres’ organization by Baseball America and the 24th overall prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, Hedges has put himself in a category that not many Padres’ prospects have found themselves in recognition-wise in recent years.
Seen by numerous scouts as major league-ready defensively coming out of high school, a Hedges commitment to UCLA would net the Padres first-round talent in the second round, as other teams seemed to have been leery of Hedges’ prior college commitment. After earning an invitation to the 2013 All-Star Futures game which earned him even more league-wide respect among those who rank baseball prospects for a living, he ultimately received a 2014 invite to Spring Training with the big club, where all eyes will be on him.
Because his defensive abilities are so remarkable, that aspect of his game is talked about to the point where you’d think he’s never held a bat before. While obviously coming second to the glove, his abilities at the plate should be respected a bit more than they’ve been. In 663 career minor league at bats Hedges has hit .268 with 15 homers, not bad for a 20-year-old player whose ability to hit has been labeled as a weakness.
With that being said, there is nothing in those numbers that suggests Hedges cannot grow into an above-average hitter in time if he is not written off as “just a defensive guy”.
Already having the proven ability to throw out probably any major league would be base-stealer, the Padres would be wise in giving Hedges as many at-bats as possible this spring, as nothing but positives can come from doing so. Think about it, if Hedges hits well in the spring, he can stay up with the big club or head back to the minors full of confidence, and If he struggles at the plate, he will have learned exactly where he is at as a player as well as what he needs to work on. That is a win either way.
With the uncertainty surrounding the health of projected starting catcher Yasmani Grandal entering the season, coupled with the fact that the 81 stolen bases allowed by catcher Nick Hundley was the worst in the NL and second-worst in all of baseball, Hedges’ services might be needed with the big club sooner than you think. A good spring will do wonders for his eventual transition to the majors, and Padres fans will certainly be watching.