MadFriars' Interview: Austin Hedges

PEORIA, AZ: Although Austin Hedges was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft most baseball pundits considered him the Padres' top pick not only on the basis of his talent but on the $3 million dollar bonus he was given to forgo his scholarship to UCLA.

Hedges, 19, had his prep career just up the road from America's Finest City in San Juan Capistrano where he starred for Junipero Serra Catholic High School.

"Hedges I love. If it wasn't for the money – on pure talent – Hedges is an easy first round pick," said Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein on the Padres drafting him.

"Good athlete, raw power, potentially above average raw power. Hedges has the kind of catching skills you just don't see anywhere – better than AA talent on catching skills right now. He has a cannon arm moves extremely well behind the plate, blocks well, quick release; and he does it right."

"He can really catch and if he can hit just a little has the skill set to be in the big leagues for 15 years, he's that good."

The reason why Hedges stuck around so long was that he was a very strong student academically and was sitting on a pretty hard draft number with his agent Scott Boras; so in essence he would sign but it had to be for the right price.

"There was a lot of talk that teams were going to be aggressive and take him but for one reason or another they didn't," said Goldstein.

However the Padres were unfazed by his contract demands or the potential difficulty of dealing with Scott Boras.

"We know what is ahead of us, but we also had him as a first round pick and he was just too good to pass up," said Jason MacLeod, then Padres' Director of Scouting and Development told MadFriars after the draft.

"To us it was worth the gamble."

MacLeod and the Padres kept their word signing him to one of the team's largest bonuses in history hours before the deadline.

The biggest surprise with Hedges so far has not been his defensive ability, which drew raves from people inside and outside the organization before the draft, but that his offense is much better than advertised.

"The expectations were that the defense was there but the bat would take some. It wasn't the case in the Instructs because he swung it well," said Randy Smith, the Padres' Director of Development on Hedges' development in the off-season.

"He was our MVP on the offensive side and it continued into the spring."

He's off to a quick start in Fort Wayne with four extra-base hits in six games including a home run.

We caught up with Austin at the end of spring training before his departure for his first season in pro baseball.

How has your first big league camp been?

Austin Hedges: It's been fun but at the same time a lot of work. I didn't really have too many expectations because I had never done this before but the coaches out here definitely knew what they were doing.

How many games were you playing a year? Most of us think of you guys of only playing around thirty games a year but when you talk to a lot of guys they really were playing close to a hundred games a year.

Austin Hedges: Yeah, it was probably close to a hundred but it also wasn't every day. It is much more of a grind playing every day.

If you go back to the draft you were thought to be a lock to go to UCLA. Why did you choose to go to the Padres?

Austin Hedges: I thought I was ready to go on my own and my big goal has always been to play in the major leagues. I just thought it was a really good opportunity and I didn't want to pass it up.

Did it also help that it was the Padres that drafted you?

Austin Hedges: Definitely. It was a dream come true.

How much has someone like Brad Ausmus helped you?

Austin Hedges: Quite a bit. In the off-season we worked together about once a week and everything he was telling me was so helpful.

What was the biggest thing that he helped you with?

Austin Hedges: Mainly just on making adjustments. At this level things happen so fast you have to be able to constantly analyze what you need to do to improve offensively and defensively.

So are you prepared to go to the Midwest with the cold weather and fried pork loin sandwiches?

Austin Hedges: [laughs] Oh yeah, I can't wait. I think it will be a lot of fun.


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