The San Diego Padres have promoted catching prospect Austin Hedges to the major league roster today, following his impressive start to the 2015 season. Through 21 games for El Paso in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Hedges was hitting .324/.392/.521 with eight walks and eight strikeouts in 79 plate appearances.
Hedges was drafted in the second round in 2011 from high school in San Juan Capistrano, California, though it cost an above-slot $3,000,000 bonus to buy him away from his college commitment to UCLA. Hedges was greatly respected for his glove but opinions were mixed about his bat, with some scouts seeing considerable potential but others being less sanguine.
The optimists looked right after he hit .279/.334/.451 with 10 homers in 337 at-bats in his debut in Low-A in 2012, but his production tailed off some after moving up to High-A in 2013 (.270/.343/.425 in 233 at-bats) and fell apart completely after he moved up to Double-A late in the year (.224/.297/.269).
His 2014 season was very disappointing: he hit just .225/.268/.321 in 427 at-bats for Double-A San Antonio. Many Texas League observers gave both his swing mechanics and strike zone judgment negative reviews, noting an over-aggressive hitting approach plus an inability to drive the ball for distance, obviously a poor combination. The Padres and some other outside observers remained optimistic, however, noting his youth (more than three years younger than his average Texas League peers) and past solid production.
As noted, he's off to an excellent start this year. The sample is small of course and El Paso and the PCL in general are good places to hit, but his BB/K/PA ratio is greatly improved this season and early reports indicate he looks more like the solid hitter we saw back in A-ball.
The defense has never been doubted: Hedges draws praise for his strong and accurate arm, general mobility behind the plate, impressive receiving skills, and leadership qualities. By itself his glovework is strong enough for him to have a substantial big league career. If the bat has truly come around, he can be a long-term starter.