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Hedges evolving as Major League hitter

MLB.com @AJCassavell

ST. LOUIS -- In his first season as a starting catcher, Austin Hedges has thrived defensively. Given his skill set, perhaps that was to be expected.

But it's also his first full season facing Major League pitching. And his results at the plate have been mixed.

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ST. LOUIS -- In his first season as a starting catcher, Austin Hedges has thrived defensively. Given his skill set, perhaps that was to be expected.

But it's also his first full season facing Major League pitching. And his results at the plate have been mixed.

View Full Game Coverage

"He's an asset to the team right now, almost regardless of what he does in the batter's box," said Padres manager Andy Green. "But you can still expect him to contribute in the batter's box ... and contribute more as the years go by. He's already a very good Major League player that's going to play himself into the upper echelon before all is said and done."

In some respects, Hedges, who turned 25 last week, already is exceeding expectations as a hitter. He's mashed 16 homers and was slugging .419 entering play Wednesday night.

Still, he's batting just .219, while reaching base at a .256 clip. Given his youth and defensive prowess, those numbers are easy to dismiss. But Hedges acknowledges his room for growth.

"It's a grind," Hedges said. "This season has been a good learning experience with me to understand the kind of hitter I am, so I can get some consistency going forward."

As for the power, Hedges adds, "I expect more to come." He never recorded more than 10 home runs in a professional season until last year with Triple-A El Paso. Now he could be poised for back-to-back 20-homer seasons, albeit at different levels.

With his three-run shot in the seventh inning Tuesday, Hedges pulled within six of Mike Piazza for the Padres' single-season home run record by a catcher. Piazza launched 22 in 2006.

"I'd love to keep hitting more," Hedges said. "But really, I'd love to just drive the ball more consistently the rest of the year. If they go out, they go out. But if they turn into some doubles, too, I'm pleased with that."

Hedges believes he's struck a perfect balance between his prep work on both sides of the ball. Upon his arrival to the ballpark, he dives straight into video and gameplanning for the Padres' starter. Once that's settled, he'll take swings in the cage. Then, shortly before gametime, he watches video of the opposing pitcher.

"It's definitely a lot more work [in the Majors]," Hedges said. "But by this point, it's become a comfortable routine for me. I know what I have to do to prepare my pitchers when I come to the field. And then I know what I have to do prepare my body to hit."

Despite the low average, Hedges has posted some impressive splits in high-leverage situations this season (as defined by baseball-reference). That fact hasn't been lost on his skipper.

High leverage: .299/.329/.582
Low/medium leverage: .197/.235/.372

"There's a ton of big hits in his back pocket that he's gotten for this team, time and time and time again," Green said. "For a guy that's struggled at times offensively, you look up, and there he is in the middle of another big rally, getting a big hit.

"Plate discipline is a big challenge for him going forward, seeing sliders, seeing spin, staying in the strike zone. If he takes those strides, he's going to turn himself into one of the elite players in the game. ... He's going to keep getting better, and from a home run perspective, it's easy to see 20 to 25 within that bat."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Austin Hedges