Padres prospect gets the call, but not before manager punks him
Triple-A manager Pat Murphy had quite the trick to play on Austin Hedges for the catcher’s first career callup to the major leagues.
In Sacramento on Sunday with El Paso ready to leave by bus for Fresno, an athletic trainer approached Hedges concerned about whether the player had been out on the town and gotten into trouble the previous night. No way, Hedges promised, he was in bed where he should have been — and had a teammate and roommate as an alibi.
When a couple of men posing as authorities boarded the bus and asked Hedges to step off, that’s when Murphy made the big announcement: he was big-league bound.
"This was up there," Hedges said while recalling one of Murphy’s grand schemes. "Obviously it was a whirlwind of emotions. I was super rattled. … It was kind of cool to do that on the bus in front of everybody and get a hug from my teammates."
The 22-year-old catching prospect drove to the Bay Area and met the Padres in San Francisco, where they opened a three-game series against the World Series champion Giants on Monday night. He made his major league debut and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth against World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner.
Manager Bud Black knows he will need to rest 2014 All-Star Derek Norris over the course of a long season and wants to give Hedges a chance to show what he can do on the big stage. He showed the Padres with his tireless work at Petco Park during the offseason and then in spring training that he can handle this assignment.
"I don’t know if there’s ever a great time but we feel this is a good time," Black said.
Maturity was a big part of the move. He spent a few days a week during the winter working with hitting coach Mark Kotsay and catching coordinator Riley Westman at Petco, finding some reliable hitting mechanics that have paid off.
"He came down a lot," Kotsay said. "It was impressive."
Even if Hedges — a second-round pick by San Diego in the 2011 amateur draft — watches more than he plays initially, there is still plenty to be gained from observing how major leaguers such as Matt Kemp and Norris go about their daily business, Black said.
"When we went through this decision, we felt the way Austin was playing at Triple-A, what we saw this year in spring training, his presence on this team gives us what we feel is the best 25-man roster," Black said. "This was just a straight baseball decision. We felt Austin would give us what we needed in the backup catcher position."
When Hedges will make his first start remained unclear: Black hinted it could be Tuesday night or for Wednesday’s afternoon finale at AT&T Park.
Hedges batted .324 with eight doubles, two home runs and 15 RBIs in 21 games at Triple-A. He had the fourth-best batting average for a catcher in the Pacific Coast League.
Regardless of his role, "I’m going to be ready to play every day," Hedges said.
His father, Charlie, was on his way up from Orange County.
Hedges understands the winning vibe in San Francisco, where the Giants have won three of the last five World Series championships.
"Just walking into this ballpark today was pretty surreal," he said. "I’ve never been here. They’re world champs. They’re a good ballclub and we’ve got a real good ballclub. I don’t think I could open up in a better place."
The Padres designated for assignment catcher Wil Nieves.