Welcome to the Austin Hedges edition of our 2015 “30 Prospects in 30 Days” series. We’ve decided to review some of the top prospects ranked by some of our favorite prospect analysts for fantasy baseball purposes. You can see some of the other recent prospects discussed here: Corey Seager, Miguel Sano, Addison Russell, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Gray, Noah Syndergaard, Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa.
The San Diego Padres selected Southern California prep star Austin Hedges in the second round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft out of San Juan Capistrano. Hedges, a defensive specialist behind the plate, decided to forgo an opportunity to play ball for UCLA to accept a deal with the Friars.
Since joining the Padres organization, the 22-year-old ascended relatively quickly through the farm thanks to his plus defense and plus arm while calling games. But reports continue to indicate Hedges could struggle with the bat in his hand, essentially limiting his ceiling as a professional catcher should he not “learn how to hit” at the big league level. Despite the current lack of hit tool, Hedges sits close to the top of the Padres’ organizational prospects lists by most outlets.
Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs ranks Hedges as the 130th-best prospect in his top-200 as we enter the 2015 season. In his profile of the Padres’ catcher, McDaniel notes that Hedges was probably ready to make a defensive impact last season in the big leagues, but could benefit from some further seasoning at the plate. McDaniel continues to say:
“You don’t have to hit much these days to be an everyday catcher, especially when you’re plus defensively. Hedges knows he just needs to make a little progress with the bat to become a big league starter and he’s focusing on it now more than ever.”
ESPN’s Keith Law lists Hedges as the 74th-best prospect in his annual top-100 list for Insider. Law’s thoughts mirror those of McDaniel’s, he’s an incredible defensive talent but fails to impress on offense. Law states:
“Hedges is the best pure receiver of the [catchers on his list], with great hands, an advanced feel for the game and what should end up as strong framing skills. He has a plus-plus arm that’s quick and accurate, and he’s improved his caught-stealing percentage slightly each year in pro ball, with a 38 percent figure in 2014 for Double-A San Antonio.”
And while Law does believe that Hedges’ weakness is indeed with the bat in his hands, he notes that there are some positive hitting characteristics in the catcher’s current approach at the plate that could get him enough play at the next level should they progress.
MLB.com lists Austin Hedges as their 51st-best prospect on their list for 2015. Again, the pundits continue to agree with their assessment of Hedges. He’s one of, if not the best receiving prospect in the minors at this time, but the bat needs to come around a bit in order for him to be a bit more relevant — especially for fantasy baseball purposes.
“Hedges has regressed at the plate since a promising full-season debut in 2012, and he finished with the lowest on-base percentage (.268) and third-lowest slugging percentage (.321) among Texas League regulars in 2014. While he doesn’t swing and miss excessively, he lacks patience and gets himself out too often. His offensive ceiling is a .270 hitter with 12-15 homers, but even if he doesn’t reach it, his defensive ability should make him a regular.”
In just over 300 games (104 PAs) across three levels on the farm, Austin Hedges owns a .251/.311/.382 triple slash with 21 homers, 116 runs scored, 142 runs batted in and 24 stolen bases in 42 attempts. He walked at just a 5% clip while striking out 19.5% of the time last season in Double-A, which sheds some light on Hedge’s patience at the plate, or lack thereof. Some of the above pundits suggest to use caution with Hedges’ progress with the bat since he’s traditionally been a bit young at each level he’s appeared, but I think it’s fair to say that if he’s not going to flash the power tool at the plate, he needs to improve the contact tool and ability to take some more walks to complement his superior defensive prowess.
When each of the most reliable prospect analysts in the baseball community provide similar grades and/or reports about a player’s progress, you have to feel comfortable with their assessment. Sure, analysts can be wrong — or, maybe they’re all getting their information from similar sources, but all signs point to Hedges being a big league defensive stud behind the plate. His ability to call games, frame pitches and throw out runners will probably allow him to compete in the majors for some time. And if by chance he can improve those hit tools, his time with a big league club could come sooner and last much longer.
Hedges will likley report back to Double-A to begin the 2015 season. He’ll continue to thrive behind the plate calling and framing, but will likely focus on his approach at the plate. For the 2015 season, Hedges will have little-to-no fantasy relevance, except for those looking for catchers in dynasty formats. But considering the current lack of hit tools present for the 22-year-old, fake general managers should probably consider passing on Hedges until we learn more about his progress with the lumber this season.