With the Padres completing their 10th game on Wednesday afternoon, the baseball season is now approximately 1/16th finished.
The Padres have finished those ten games an even five and five, and they will head to Atlanta for a weekend series with the Braves.
Through ten games, there has been no shortage of storylines in San Diego.
From Manuel Margot and Wil Myers‘ stellar starts to the season to the injuries to the Padres pitching staff, the Padres have actually been interesting to watch. Sure, the team will finish with somewhere in the window of 60 or 70 wins, but it appears the Padres will have plenty of good things to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
However, there will be no shortage of frustration for Padres fans as we struggle through what will be a trying season. Early on in the season, the most frustrating thing has been watching catcher Austin Hedges, who went nine whole games without a hit before securing his first hit of the year on Wednesday afternoon.
After 27 plate appearances through the first nine games, and another plate appearance to start the day Wednesday, Hedges finally got his first hit during his 29th plate appearance. After his infield single, on a ball that was dribbled down the third base line, Hedges is now hitting .037/.133/.037 on the season with a wRC+ of -42 , after starting the season at -54 through Tuesday’s game.
With Hedges’ slow start, some Padre fans have shown great concern, as there has been some doubt as to whether Hedges will ever be capable of hitting big league pitching.
During his 2015 MLB debut, it was pretty clear Hedges was overmatched, as his 25 wRC+ over 152 plate appearances showed. After spending much of the season in Triple-A in 2016, and slashing .326/.353/.597 with 21 home runs in just over 300 plate appearances, Hedges got another call up to the bigs at the end of last season. In those 26 plate appearances, Hedges slashed .125/.154/.167 with a -18 wRC+. Even with all the progress Hedges made in Triple-A last season, it appeared those adjustments did not translate to the big league level.
Now, this all needs a caveat. These are very small sample sizes and it’s very difficult to assess true talent level when we are talking about a week or two of plate appearances, both from last year and the start of this year. However, to this point, Hedges has yet to prove to the Padres that he can effectively hit big league pitching. Regardless, Hedges has a place on the big league roster, and there is still no need to worry about Hedges long-term prospects.
Despite Hedges only collecting one hit on the season to this point, there is still plenty of room for optimism about him going forward. Sure, Hedges is making a lot of outs, but he is still making lots of good contact. Hedges is making hard contact nearly 30 percent of the time, medium contact nearly 65 percent of the time, and has made soft contact just under six percent of the time. All three numbers are at, or better, than league average, which shows Hedges is making good contact, whether those balls are falling or not.
Taking things one step forward, Hedges looks a lot better by his exit velocity numbers. On his team, Hedges has the best exit velocity, nearly four mph better than the second place Padre, Wil Myers. Among players with at least 10 batted ball events in the entire league so far this season, Hedges has the 22nd best exit velocity, at 94.2 mph.
Both these images show just how successful Hedges has been at making good contact this season. Clearly the hits haven’t been falling just yet, but there are reassuring signs that portend good things in his future.
Most importantly of all for Hedges is the fact that he is still succeeding at the things he is good at. There have always been questions about Hedges bat, but there have never been questions about his glove. Even if Hedges fails to duplicate his top-notch Triple-A performance from last season, his strong glove can still carry him as an everyday big leaguer. In fact, Hedges has been one of the best catchers in all of baseball by various defensive metrics. According to StatCorner’s catcher report, Hedges is fifth in RAA, which stands for runs above average and attempts to measure a catcher’s defensive value.
The hits will start to fall for Hedges sooner or later. He is showing a good approach at the plate and is making good contact. On top of that, Hedges is showing why he was considered one of the best, if not the best, defensive catchers in the entire minor leagues over the last several years. There’s still some work for Hedges to do, but it is way too early for fans to show too much concern about his early season performance. With Hedges, patience is warranted.