We've already begun our encompassing look at the catcher position with the release of our consensus top 30 catchers for the 2014 season. We will not be releasing a top prospect list by position this year, so there is no list of top 20 catching prospects coming, for the simple reason that ranking them for position isn't likely to help a lot of fantasy owners. Instead, as a part of each position, the prospect staff will look at a few prospects at each position who could potentially have an impact during the 2014 season. Our last prospect up this week is Padres' catching prospect Austin Hedges.
Weight: 190 lbs.
On 40-Man Roster: No
Protect After: 2015 Season
DOB: 8/18/1992 (Age 21 season)
Hedges was a second round draft pick by the Padres back in the 2011 draft, signing for an over-slot bonus of $3 million to keep him from attending UCLA. He debuted that year, appearing in just nine games between the complex and their short-season affiliate. The team moved him to full-season Low-A for the 2012 season, where he hit .279/.334/.451 with 10 home runs in 96 games. Promoted to High-A to start the 2013 season, Hedges appeared in 66 games there before being promoted to AA, where he got into another 20 before the end of the year. He did miss nearly a month last year after being hit by a pitch on the hand. His performance at the plate was solid, although not to the same level as his first year, as he hit .260/.333/.390 with four home runs.
The Scouting Report
Hedges' scouting report starts with his defense, as draft reports on him alluded to the idea that he was already advanced enough out of high school to catch in the majors that season. He is as close as a guarantee to stay at the position long-term as you are ever going to get from a catcher, as his defense remains plus to potentially plus-plus. On the offensive side, Hedges profiles as an average bat for the position, which could translate into a .250-.260 average with double-digit home run totals some years.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
At the major league level, the Padres have Yasmani Grandal and Nick Hundley ahead of Hedges on the depth chart. While both remain ahead for now, it is likely that when Hedges is ready, he will be brought up and moved toward the full-time starting job. In terms of development, Hedges could use more repetitions at the plate, and AA should give him a good indication of his ability to make adjustments to higher quality pitching.
When Could He Arrive?
Hedges is likely to return to AA to start the 2014 campaign, and hopefully will be able to play the full season this year (his career high in games played is 96 in 2012). I would most likely peg him for a potential late-season call up if he performs well this year, with 2015 a more realistic option for his debut and later that year taking over as the everyday catcher.
What Can He Do When He Gets There?
Brian Creagh noted that if he reaches his ceiling of a .280 batting average with 13-15 home runs, he's probably still outside the top 10 for fantasy purposes at the position. A realistic line in my opinion is a .260 batting average with 10-12 home runs, which would play best in NL-only leagues and as a second catcher in a number of formats. He'll likely end up in the top 20 most years at the position.
Hedges is the cautionary tale to fantasy owners to be mindful of prospect lists from the major sites, as his real-life value is drastically higher than his fantasy value. He will be a useful player for fantasy owners in a number of formats, but shallow leagues is worth skipping over until he is ready for the major league level.
Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonsbaseball