Prospect Report: Austin Hedges

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Craig Goldstein takes a closer look at what catching prospect Austin Hedges could mean to fantasy owners

As part of our comprehensive look at the catcher position heading into the 2013 fantasy season, Jason Hunt and I are taking a closer look at two catching prospects and how to value them in fantasy. This is to give you a better idea of two of the players listed on our 2013 Fantasy Catching Prospects Rankings. Today's subject is San Diego Padres prospect Austin Hedges.

Hedges is an instructive example for those just entering the world of prospects. He's a defensive artist, who had very real questions on his hit tool when he was drafted. Selected in the 2nd round by the Padres, Hedges had long been lauded for his defensive abilities, with some saying that his defensive chops would play in the pros almost immediately. What held him back were the scouting reports on his bat. While everyone agreed that he had some pop in his bat, the question was whether he could access it. While he was drafted in the 2nd round, Hedges signed for a $3 million bonus, equivalent to top 5 pick money, so clearly the Padres thought well of him.

Beginning 2012 in full season ball is impressive for any 2011 prep draftee, but especially so for Hedges who had all the concerns on his bat. Hedges acquitted himself very well, recording a .279/.334/.451 slash line while spending the full season at Lo-A Fort Wayne. He added 10 home runs as a part of his 38 extra base hits, and a somewhat shocking 14 steals (23 attempts) given his below average speed. Hedges enjoyed a strong year at the plate relative to expectations, either proving people wrong or fulfilling the optimistic end of his scouting profile. He finished the year with a K% and BB% of 16.2 and 6.2 respectively. Both these numbers are reasonable given his aggressive profile at the plate coming out of high school, and give hope that he can continue to improve.

While his potential at the plate is often questioned when compared to his work behind it, Hedges is still an offensive prospect in his own right. After his solid 2012 campaign, scouts are more optimistic that he can be an average bat, and he carries no more risk on his bat than many other prospects. Hedges has some raw pop that he put on display in a pre-draft workout at Petco Park, and he can access that during games, to go with a .260-.270 average, you're talking a potential all-star behind the plate. Obviously that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves, as Hedges just turned 20 in August, and will begin 2013 at Hi-A Lake Elsinore, but it's worth noting that at times his defensive prowess can be so overpowering that it can appear to diminish his offensive potential. A quick scouting report on his defense since it earns all the praise: Hedges has been known to sport sub-1.8 second pop times, and has received plus-plus marks on his makeup, leadership, blocking and receiving. It's the entire package on defense, and if he never hits a lick, he will likely enjoy a long career in the majors on the strength of his defense alone.

So how does all of this combine to make Hedges an instructive example exactly? To put it bluntly, Hedges value as a prospect and a player is significantly higher in the real world than it is in fantasy. While I have gone to lengths to say that Hedges average abilities at the plate shouldn't be overlooked, his superb talents as a defender shouldn't be overrated by fantasy owners. The reason he ranks in the top 10 of our fantasy prospect rankings is that: a) Catching is not a deep position right now, and b) He is as sure of a bet to stay at catcher as there is, which can be an issue with many a catching prospect.

Hedges will begin 2013 in the hitting conducive California League, so if he sets the world on fire next year, make sure the scouting reports have changed as well. Otherwise it's likely to be the environment that made the difference. I'm of the mind that I would not be drafting Hedges at any point in a fantasy league, just because I like to shoot for the stars. I'm a ceiling chaser and like to go big when it comes to prospects. If you value a high floor though, Hedges is all but guaranteed to be a major leaguer and provide some sort of value, though whether it's enough for a fantasy position is yet to be determined.

Check back in for Jason's look at Seattle Mariner's prospect Mike Zunino tomorrow!

Source Materials:
FanGraphs
Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus

Follow me at @cdgoldstein

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