The situation: The second-place Padres have gotten big offensive numbers from Derek Norris (.880 OPS, 11 doubles going into Sunday) but have called up Hedges to replace the struggling Wil Nieves as the backup.
Background: Hedges was a highly-touted backstop coming out of JSerra High School in Orange County, CA, but a strong commitment to UCLA saw him slip into the second round, where many viewed him unsignable. San Diego convinced him with a $3 million dollar signing bonus and he quickly established himself as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. He was the no. 1 prospect on the BP Prospect Team’s Padres rankings this winter, and was the second-highest ranked catcher on the BP 101, trailing only recent Boston call-up Blake Swihart.
Scouting report: Normally we start these scouting reports with the offensive profile, but the reason Hedges is so highly thought of is his defense. He is one of the most advanced receivers of this generation, with no issues handling top velocity and with goalie-like reflexes that allow him to keep the ball in front of him. His footwork is excellent, and though there are stronger arms in the minor leagues, only Reese McGuire matches Hedges' ability to get rid of the ball quickly. He also gets rave reviews in his advanced ability to frame pitches, though like many young receivers there are moments when he’ll “yank” the baseball into the zone. When Baseball Prospectus released its revised catcher framing metric in February, Hedges ranked higher than any minor-league catcher for 2014–by an almost two-to-one margin.
With that kind of defensive ability, Hedges doesn’t need to have a ton of offensive upside, which is good, because Hedges doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside. The right-handed hitter does possess above-average bat speed and a strong lower half, so there is a chance for fringe-average power. The hit tool is well below average though, as Hedges is impatient at the plate and struggles with anything that doesn’t go straight. He’s also a pull-happy hitter, and too often will try to crush pitches on the outer half out of the park rather than go the other way with the pitch. Scouts tell me he’s made a conscience effort to show more patience at the plate, however, and his eight walks in 75 plate appearances in 2015 put him on pace to destroy his career-high total in walks (28 last year).
Immediate big league future: Even with the improved—admittedly small-sample-sized—approach at the plate, the tools just aren’t there for Hedges to make a big impact with the bat. He’s a much better defender than Norris, so if he does get a chance to play he can make a difference with the glove and arm. Keep in mind that Hedges won’t turn 23 until August, so there’s plenty of time for the right-hander to become a competent offensive player in the future. If he does, he has a chance to be among the best backstops in baseball, but his glove is so good he'll be an everyday backstop for a long time regardless. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy impact: Hedges is a perennial top-101 prospect and is hitting .343/.413/.552 in Triple-A. He’s now in the majors. Those things sound good for his fantasy value. However, the 22-year-old backstop has a couple of significant roadblocks that keep him from being relevant in standard mixed leagues: (1) Derek Norris is raking this season and will remain the everyday catcher; and (2) Hedges’ probable offensive production won’t come anywhere near his current Triple-A numbers.
It’s likely that Hedges is being called up to get comfortable in the big leagues and begin to learn about the pitching staff prior to the Padres’ two away interleague series this month. Given his defensive prowess, it’s likely he sees extra time behind the dish against the Mariners and Angels while Norris DHs. The team is smart to give Hedges time to acclimate before sending him out for an extended run behind the plate.
Fantasy owners should remember that Hedges is coming off a .225/.268/.321 season in Double-A. He’s not a thumper with the bat, and it’s a stretch to think he’d be league-average offensively in a difficult run environment in San Diego. His value comes via the glove, not the bat. Not all "top prospects” have much fantasy value.
Ultimately, Hedges is not worth rostering in standard mixed leagues at the moment. I don’t even think he’s worth rostering in NL-onlies. Deeper dynasty leagues might be tempted to roster him because playing time is as important as anything, and Hedges does project to be a starting catcher down the road. Due to the deficiencies with the bat, though, he’s not an exciting fantasy prospect. —J.P. Breen
- 90th percentile: .253/.295/.394, 0.9 WARP
- 50th percentile: .210/.248/.323, -0.4 WARP
- 10th percentile: .168/.200/.255, -1.0 WARP
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