The backup catcher role had been one of the most hotly contested in camp, at least offensively, with the 23-year-old Mejia essentially playing his way onto the team after slashing .348/.375/.630 with three homers over 48 plate appearances and significant defensive strides. Thirty-seven-year-old Chris Stewart, who signed a Minor League deal in January and was also battling for the spot, will begin the year backing up touted prospect Austin Allen at Triple-A El Paso.
Now, the Padres must address how they will deploy an unconventional platoon between the switch-hitting Mejia and right-handed-hitting Hedges, whose splits were reversed last year. Mejia posted an .860 OPS batting right-handed at Triple-A in 2018, well higher than his .759 OPS hitting from the left side. Hedges -- widely regarded as one of the Majors’ elite defensive catchers -- had an OPS of .726 and .675 against righties and lefties, respectively.
“Austin will be out there day one,” Green said. “Frankie is going to play. How much? I don't really know. We're going to let performance dictate that, to a degree, but he's going to play. He didn't make this team to not play.
“The goal for us, stated to both of them and both of them believed it, is to have the best catching team in baseball. We can get there. Those guys bring really special things to the table and our best club.”
Mejia debuted in 2017 with the Indians and has played in just 32 big league games, including 20 last year for the Friars when he slashed .185/.241/.389 after coming over in a July 19 trade with Cleveland for relievers Adam Cimber and Brad Hand. The club’s No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 26 overall, Mejia has been one of the top hitters in the Minors over the past three seasons, headlined by a 50-game hitting streak in ’16, which prompted the Indians to test him at other positions to allocate him more at-bats.
The Padres, however, have been committed to keeping Mejia at catcher, which is why they’ve been most impressed with the defensive strides he showed in camp, specifically with his receiving, framing and blocking, which Mejia credited heavily to his work with new bench coach Rod Barajas.
“I think the big takeaway for me has been communication,” Mejia said through club interpreter David Longley. “Talking to the pitchers. It's being able to communicate with the coaches and not being scared to ask questions, sharing my thoughts and asking questions, and learning from everything they told me.”
Stewart, who played in just eight MLB games last year with the Braves and D-backs, was also a pleasant surprise in camp after reporting in great shape and implementing mechanical adjustments in a short span. Specifically, under the guidance of hitting coach Johnny Washington, Stewart has been releasing his top hand to help him stay through the ball better and create a cleaner bat path. Stewart had a .353/.476/.529 slash line over 21 plate appearances this spring.
A 12-year veteran, Stewart was signed to help oversee the club’s young pitching staff and supplement its strong defensive catching unit.