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Padres have potential at backstop with Hedges

Catching prospect could be on track to Majors with time, offensive development @BerniePleskoff

San Diego Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges has shown so much potential and upside that it would only be natural to want to rush his arrival to the big leagues. That wouldn't be fair to Hedges or to the Padres.

Tempting? Yes. Practical? Probably not.

Hedges is coming along quickly as a potential everyday Major League catcher. However, he has development remaining. Especially offensively, where Hedges needs more time to acclimate to breaking balls and quality pitching.

Hedges had intended to attend UCLA, but he elected instead to sign a contract with San Diego after graduating from high school. The Padres made him their second-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Hedges is No. 2 on San Diego's Top 20 Prospects list.

I have to temper my enthusiasm for Hedges because I know the wide separation between being a Minor League prospect and a Major League player. The difference is likely wider than is generally believed.

However, at only 21, Hedges shows extremely advanced defensive mechanics behind the plate. And to make things even better, he can probably hit more than most scouts projected at the time he was drafted.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound, right-handed-hitting Hedges is a bit on the light side for the rigors of catching. Room for additional strength in his upper body remains. Hedges will have to prepare for the rigors of a long season.

I watched Hedges in the Arizona Fall League this season. He has made a tremendous impression with his defense and, to some degree, his offense as well.

Normally, scouting reports address offense first. In the case of Hedges, his defense is the primary aspect of his game that garners attention. He is a "defense first" catching prospect.

Hedges is among a group of highly talented young catching prospects that played in the Fall League this season, and he is at or near the top of my list.

Hedges has the type of confidence and leadership behind the plate that is rarely seen in such a young prospect. Just as he should be doing, he directs the game as a good shepherd to his pitchers and serves as the captain of the defensive ship. His game management and receiving of pitches are among the qualities Hedges brings to his game.

Hedges has soft hands, quick feet and a very powerful and accurate arm. In fact, I have clocked his POP time (the time from which the ball hits his catcher's glove to the time the ball hits the glove of the fielder covering second base) at just 1.87 seconds. That's very good. A good time is generally two seconds.

Time and again, I have seen the carry on Hedges' throws reach the base on a direct line to second base. And more often than not during this AFL season, the runner was out stealing (he threw out 12 of 22 would-be base stealers). Accuracy is as important as any factor in making throws to nail potential basestealers.

Hedges' career average throwing out potentials stealers is a very good 32 percent. For comparison purposes, in the course of his career, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey has the same caught-stealing percentage.

Using a powerful arm to throw out runners is important, but blocking balls in the dirt to prevent runners from advancing is crucial. Hedges blocks balls extremely well.

Offensively, Hedges has shown some power in his bat and an ability to take a pitch deep to the gaps. His power may even increase in time. Hedges has the potential to be an acceptable hitter because he realizes his limitations and sees pitches well. He does not try to exceed his own abilities.

Using a compact swing, Hedges takes pitches where they are thrown.

It wouldn't surprise if Hedges settled in with a .260 Major League batting average in due time. The home run total will likely surprise as well. Overall, he will contribute offensively.

It's very easy to get excited about Hedges' future. But development of his game remains.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.

San Diego Padres