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Friars awash with catching talent, depth

January 4, 2019

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today, we preview the San Diego catchers.SAN DIEGO -- Every team in baseball is looking for young catching talent. The Padres, it seems, have it in droves.Francisco

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today, we preview the San Diego catchers.
SAN DIEGO -- Every team in baseball is looking for young catching talent. The Padres, it seems, have it in droves.
Francisco Mejia, acquired from Cleveland at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, ranks squarely among the top catching prospects in baseball. Austin Hedges, who once held the same title, is only 26 himself and coming off a breakout second half.
Many have wondered what the presence of both Hedges and Mejia could mean for playing time in 2019. The Padres view their forthcoming catching competition in an extremely positive light.
"Both guys have really shown ... they're going to be Major League-caliber catchers," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said. "Is this a situation where both guys are splitting time? Does one guy take the lead and be the main guy? Do we go after a veteran catcher to supplement at the Triple-A level? All those things will be determined."
As things stand, here's a breakdown of how San Diego might line up at catcher this year:
Projected starter: Hedges
Potential backups: Mejia, Austin Allen
Top 30 prospects: No. 3 Mejia, No. 24 Luis Campusano, No. 25 Allen
We'll start with Hedges, who has made it very clear he views himself as a primary option behind the plate. He wants to catch 130 games, and he's let the Padres know that.

It's not arrogance. Hedges wants to be on the field every day, and the Padres appreciate that.
"He definitely comes in as a guy that we're expecting really big things from this year," manager Andy Green said. "Couldn't be any more pleased with what Austin has done."
What's he done exactly? Well, he's evolved into one of the game's elite defensive backstops. Hedges has finished in the top 10 in framing runs above average each of the past two seasons, and there are few better at controlling the running game (though Hedges took a step back in that department last year).
At the plate, Hedges finished with a .711 OPS in 2018, including a .744 mark in the second half -- both well above the MLB average for catchers. It'll be awfully hard to supplant a defensive wizard like Hedges if he's hitting, too.
But Mejia just might have the tools to do so. Granted, Mejia is incredibly raw, and he chases far too many pitches. But no one denies his elite bat speed and plate instincts, plus his arm is on par with Hedges'. (It might even be better, which says an awful lot.)

Still, Hedges will enter camp as the favorite. Mejia has work to do with his game-calling and framing, and he's just 23 years old.
But there's a possibility that Mejia finds playing time elsewhere. If his bat lights up, the Padres could use him as a versatile piece -- spelling Hedges behind the plate, while also seeing time in the outfield. They haven't committed to such a move yet, but if the Padres are going to keep both Hedges and Mejia, it seems inevitable.
Then there's Allen, who was added to the 40-man roster in November. His bat is excellent, but his defense remains a question mark, and he'll get a serious test during Spring Training.

Perhaps it's telling that Preller has mentioned Allen alongside Mejia and Hedges when he discusses the spring competition. It's certainly one worth watching.
"It's going to benefit me, Austin and Francisco, having that competition," Allen said recently. "It's going to be friendly competition, but it's only going to make us better in the long run."

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