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Riding Pine Pays Dividends For Hedges



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Austin Hedges (Photo by Bill MItchell) Austin Hedges (Photo by Bill MItchell)[/caption]

SAN DIEGOThe day catcher Austin Hedges signed his contract with the Padres, he displayed power that surprised even the man who drafted him two months earlier.

"He’s gotten stronger since we drafted him. He’s a better hitter now,” Jason McLeod, now with the Cubs, said in August 2011 after the just-drafted teenager blasted batting-practice pitches out of Petco Park.

Hedges, a second-round pick in 2011 who signed for $3 million, largely for his defensive ability at catcher, is now making the Pacific Coast League look like batting practice.

During one 15-game stretch beginning in mid-June, the righthanded hitter struck 12 home runs and four doubles while driving in 30 runs at Triple-A El Paso.

He went 30-for-57 (.526) with five walks and nine strikeouts in that span, and overall he hit .397/.438/.809 through 38 games.

"I have high expectations for myself,” said Hedges, 23, via MiLB.com. "I’m not necessarily trying to hit home runs. I’m just trying to drive the ball. I expect to do good things with the bat, and it’s been nice to see.”

Entering the season, Hedges had not produced much power in his career. He slugged a meager .314 in nearly 500 Double-A at-bats.

But he said he benefited from spending much of the 2015 season on the Padres’ bench as a backup to Derek Norris.

"The biggest thing I took from it was having a consistent routine each day,” said Hedges, who hit .168 for the Padres and lost his rookie eligibility by taking 137 at-bats. "Show up at the field, then prepare myself both physically and mentally.”

While Hedges is young for the PCL, he may not be long for the hitter-friendly league.

"When the opportunity presents itself, he’s a guy who’s very much a part of our future.” big league manager Andy Green said.

FATHER FIGURES 

• The Padres this summer are among the biggest spenders in the international market, per the long-range plan of general manager A.J. Preller when he took over in 2014. "It’s taken 18 months to put this thing together and build strong relationships with players and their families,” said international scouting director Chris Kemp, who followed Preller to San Diego from the Rangers.

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• Righthander Chris Paddack, acquired from the Marlins for closer Fernando Rodney on June 30, was riding a 15-inning no-hit streak in low Class A Greensboro at the time of the trade. Preller said that Paddack has a big body and ranges from 90-95 mph. "He pitches with his fastball—he throws a ton of strikes—and his changeup is a good pitch,” Preller said. "His (mid-70s) breaking ball continues to develop.”

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