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Backstop Hedges looks to raise bar in 2018

25-year-old has stabilized catcher spot in San Diego, but team lacks depth
January 5, 2018

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2018 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview San Diego's catchers.The Padres handed the keys to Austin Hedges behind the plate in 2017. Offensively, there appears to be work left to do. But defensively,

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2018 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview San Diego's catchers.
The Padres handed the keys to Austin Hedges behind the plate in 2017. Offensively, there appears to be work left to do. But defensively, he starred.
Hedges seemingly established himself as the catcher of the future in San Diego. He arrived as one of baseball's most highly touted young backstops, and his 2017 season did little to dispel that notion.
Hedges batted .214/.262/.398 while mashing 18 homers, the most by a Padres catcher since Mike Piazza set the club record with 22 in 2006. On defense, Hedges drew rave reviews for his work with the pitching staff, and he excelled as a pitch-framer. He tied for fifth among Major League catchers with seven defensive runs saved.
"He's really talented back there," said Padres reliever Brad Hand. "He does his homework. All the pitchers here have good trust in him. That's good to see. He's a young catcher, and you don't really see that too often, a rookie catcher gaining that kind of trust from his pitching staff right out the get-go. That's a credit to him and the hard work he puts in."
Of course, Hedges was always projected to shine behind the plate. The question marks surrounding Hedges as a prospect revolved largely around his ability to hit. In that respect, 2017 was a mixed bag.
Hedges showcased a bit more power than expected, but his average and on-base percentage weren't up to par.

"There's a lot of room to grow mentally, just approach-wise at the plate," Hedges said at the end of the season. "I want to get stronger. I caught a lot of games, but I missed a bit of time with certain little injuries. I want to catch 130-140 games, so I've definitely got to get stronger."
Hedges' first season as a full-time catcher featured its share of ups and downs. He started hot, homering six times in April, but he slumped during the middle of the season, hitting .200 without a walk during an injury-riddled July.
All of it was valuable experience, in Hedges' eyes.
"Ultimately, [I learned] how to prepare for a big league game from a game-plan standpoint," Hedges said. "I've learned a lot about that and how to take care of my body. I've definitely got more room to learn, but I'm pleased with that kind of growth."
Behind Hedges, the situation is murkier. Longtime Padres Minor Leaguer Rocky Gale will get a shot to win the backup job in Spring Training. He was added to the 40-man roster in September and went 1-for-10 with a homer in his brief big league stint.

Raffy Lopez, who batted .222/.306/.463 in 24 games for Toronto last season, is another option. But it seems likely the Padres will add a third catcher to the competition before the offseason ends.
Projected starter: Hedges
Potential backups: Lopez, Gale
Top 30 prospects: Luis Campusano, No. 18; Austin Allen, No. 20; Blake Hunt, No. 24

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