Padres spring training position preview: catchers

In Spring Training, hope springs eternal for all baseball fans. With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training this week for all 30 teams, live baseball is on the horizon. The San Diego Padres enter 2018 in (what they hope will be) one of the last years of their rebuild. With the “first wave” of players (such as Manuel Margot) having reached the big leagues and with minor league starting pitching not too far off, the organization enters this season looking to take a few steps forward on the path to contention.

From now until Spring Training concludes, Fox Sports San Diego will preview each player at each position that is in big league camp.

Let’s start with the catchers.

Favorite to start on Opening Day: Austin Hedges

This is an easy one. Coming off his first big league season as a starter, the majority of the focus on Austin Hedges this spring will be on his development at the plate. Defensively, there is no doubt that he is among the league’s best in receiving and pitch framing. However, with the bat it is a different story. In 2017, Hedges hit .214/.262/.398 in 120 games. Despite an impressive home run total that ranked him top 10 among MLB catchers, the 25-year-old posted a 71 wRC+ with a 29.3% strikeout rate. According to MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, Hedges made a few adjustments in the offseason that he is hoping will help:

Austin Hedges is an elite talent behind the dish that will be an asset even if he doesn’t hit. Obviously, though, the Padres are hoping he can take a step forward at the plate.

Backup Options:

Minor league journeyman Rocky Gale was drafted by the Padres in the 24th round of the 2010 draft, and he has been a mainstay in the organization ever since. Gale has had two stints in the big leagues, once in 2015 and again in 2017. Last September, he hit his first career home run off Robbie Ray. In doing so, Gale set the Padres single-season team home run record. The 29-year-old is a career .259 hitter in the minors and is a candidate to back up Hedges.

Seeking another backup option, the Padres signed veteran A.J. Ellis to a minor-league deal on the day that pitchers and catchers reported. Ellis will turn 37 in April, and he is (by far) the most well-known catcher of the bunch. The former Dodger is a favorite of manager Andy Green. With the Marlins last year, Ellis hit .210 with six home runs in 163 plate appearances.

  • Raffy Lopez

Raffy Lopez signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training in December. In 63 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last year, the 30-year-old hit .222 with four home runs. Like Gale, Lopez has spent most of his time in the minor leagues. His 24 games played in the majors last year was a career high.

The Padres snagged Luis Torrens in the 2016 Rule V draft, and for the majority of the season he was the backup catcher at the big league level. Torrens had never played above A ball prior to 2017, and the 21 year old obviously struggled to the tune of a .163/.243/.203 slash line. Looking to make up for lost time, the Venezuelan played winter ball this offseason to get more at-bats under his belt. He is an outside contender for the backup spot, as it is likely he will be starting in the minor leagues for a majority (if not all) of 2018.

On the farm

  • Stephen McGee is a non-roster invitee to camp. The 27-year-old hit .252/.387/.409 with AA San Antonio last season.
  • Austin Allen (not to be confused with the Arkansas Razorbacks QB) impressed in 2017 with Lake Elsinore, slashing .283/.353/.497 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI. The 24-year-old is getting plenty of experience in his first big league camp, and will likely begin his 2018 season in AA San Antonio.