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Hedges enters camp with modified swing

Defensive-wiz catcher worked with hitting coach over offseason
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Year 1 of the Austin Hedges era in San Diego went, for the most part, as expected.

Thought to be the future of the Padres behind the dish, Hedges was brilliant defensively, and he handled his pitching staff with the grace and preparedness of a 10-year veteran. At the plate, however, he struggled, showcasing a bit of power but ultimately slumping to a .214 batting average and a .262 on-base percentage.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Year 1 of the Austin Hedges era in San Diego went, for the most part, as expected.

Thought to be the future of the Padres behind the dish, Hedges was brilliant defensively, and he handled his pitching staff with the grace and preparedness of a 10-year veteran. At the plate, however, he struggled, showcasing a bit of power but ultimately slumping to a .214 batting average and a .262 on-base percentage.

None of those results would've been considered surprising before 2017 began. As a prospect, Hedges was always considered one of the sport's best young defenders. The question marks surrounded his bat exclusively.

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Not surprisingly, that's where Hedges chose to make the biggest offseason adjustments. He worked extensively with Padres assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington to refine his swing.

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"What you'll see will look a little different," Hedges foreshadowed on Wednesday, the report date for pitchers and catchers in Peoria. "There's quite a few adjustments. Nothing crazy, but it'll look different."

Hedges wouldn't get into specifics (nor did the Padres take batting practice on a field). His leg kick remains intact. That's what helped convert him into a legitimate power threat two seasons ago, after all. But it's safe to expect a more simplified pre-swing load.

Video: ARI@SD: Hedges launches a solo homer to left-center

"He's had a lot of movement in his swing," said Padres manager Andy Green. "His head's covered a lot of ground and probably made it difficult for him to see the baseball well."

The Padres believe Hedges will benefit greatly from new hitting coach Matt Stairs, who spent last season in the same role in Philadelphia. There, Stairs had a tangible impact on the plate discipline of some young hitters.

Hedges met with Stairs briefly during the offseason and said there's plenty to learn from a former masher with a 19-year big league track record of power and patience.

Last year, Hedges showcased plenty of the former. With 18 homers, he finished four shy of Mike Piazza's franchise record for a catcher. He struggled with the latter, but the club is hopeful Hedges' swing changes will give him an on-base boost.

Video: SD@MIN: Hedges clubs game-tying solo home run in 8th

"Until you're challenged in day-to-day games in Spring Training, you don't know how it's going to work out," Green said. "But we're optimistic. He's worked like crazy. It's always been, for him, the way he defends the field and calls the game that's his most important trait."

Indeed, the Padres view any offense from Hedges as a bonus. On Wednesday, a new crop of pitchers reported to Peoria, and Hedges set to work learning their repertoires.

He's yet to catch former Yankee Bryan Mitchell, who arrived in a December trade. He caught Kazuhisa Makita, a free-agent signing from Japan, earlier this week for the first time. The next few days will be devoted to catching every newcomer and developing a rapport with them.

Tweet from @Padres: It���s happening! Baseball activities have begun 💪 #PadresST pic.twitter.com/mswSiLdlat

On that front, the Padres haven't asked Hedges to change much -- if anything. They raved about his game preparation and the way he handled the pitching staff last season.

That doesn't mean it was always easy for Hedges, who was playing regularly for the first time. He's eager to build on the lessons he learned.

"I know what it's like to prepare for that," Hedges said. "A lot of times in the past, it was about coming to Spring Training, and you're getting ready to be good for Spring Training. Now it's like: 'What do I need to do to get my body and my mind prepared for a full season?'"

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

San Diego Padres, Austin Hedges