With the trades the Padres front office made this offseason, the other hitters may enter 2018 as sleeper picks. I would target catcher Austin Hedges late.
The San Diego Padres were surprisingly big buyers this offseason, trading for two offensive players and a starting pitcher and bringing back another pitcher. With a few more pieces available, they may not be done yet. Though, with the upgrade to the offense, there could be some sleeper picks in 2018, one of them being catcher Austin Hedges.
Hedges has been in the Padres system since 2011 but didn’t make his debut until 2015. He played in just 64 games in his first two years, hitting .161 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and 15 runs scored in that span.
Last year was the first full season we got to see what Hedges can provide at the big-league level. He played in 120 games and hit .214/.262/.398 with 18 homers, 55 RBI and 36 runs scored. Hedges had 122 strikeouts and just 23 walks, so he could work on his plate discipline next season but that’s something he hasn’t done at any level.
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He has a career 5.5 walk and 24.6 strikeout rate. Hedges was a big ground ball hitter throughout his minor-league career which kept his fly ball rate no higher than 42 percent over a full season.
Hedges swings at 53 percent of pitches and 15.4 percent of strikes. He gets behind in counts 62.4 percent of counts, 29th highest among all qualified hitters.
His 69.7 percent contact rate would have ranked him 136th among hitters, decimal points ahead of Cody Bellinger. The low average and power kept him from being in the same conversation.
The Padres brought back third baseman Chase Headley and traded for shortstop Freddy Galvis. Those two added with the power of Wil Myers and Yangervis Solarte and upside of Hunter Renfroe, the Padres have an underrated offense heading into this season.
This benefits Hedges greatly. As someone who spent most of 2017 hitting either seventh or eighth, he will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. He should be able to drive in another 50-60 runs while hitting 17 home runs and .230 over 100+ games. Though, having rookie Rocky Gale on the roster may cut into his playing time.
After the top five or six catchers, the rest of the players look very similar. I wouldn’t draft a catcher just because you need to fill that spot. It all depends on your team’s statistical needs at that point, and I think Hedges could provide the same numbers as the other names ranked ahead of him.
Hedges currently ranks outside my top-15 among catchers. The low batting average diminishes his value more than the power helps. Power can be found anywhere, so Hedges doesn’t stand out in that category.
Though, if you like waiting to draft your starting catcher, Hedges should be available as one of your final picks in your draft.