Austin Hedges has always been known for his defense, but his offensive abilities have been questioned since he was drafted. In 2014, Fangraphs graded his arm 70/70, but only 20/40 for his bat, and some wondered if his offensive inconsistency would hinder his ability to play at the major league level.
Hedges began making adjustments to his swing mechanics in 2015, with the assistance of Padres’ hitting coach Alan Zinter, after batting just .168 in the majors during the 2015 season. Dennis Lin wrote last offseason that Zinter and Hedges worked on a number of adjustments, including a higher leg kick and repositioning his hands to get himself into what Zinter calls the “launch position”. By getting to that position earlier, Hedges has been able to catch up to pitches that were giving him trouble in previous seasons.
El Paso Chihuahua fans were able to see Hedges incorporate these new swing mechanics during the 2016 season in AAA, where he hit .326 with 21 home runs in 82 games. Those numbers were encouraging for Padres fans who were looking for Hedges to take the next step offensively, however many were still unsure if that offense would translate from the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to the spacious confines of Petco Park.
Hedges began this season 0-24, and last season’s success seemed like a mirage. After looking at film with Zinter early this season, the two saw that Hedges was slightly out of sync with his hands again, which prevented him from getting into the mythical launch position. After resetting his swing, Hedges was rewarded with his first hit April 12, and has raised his batting average from zilch to .219 on the season. Of his forty-one hits on the year, eighteen have gone for extra bases, including eleven home runs. Hedges has tripled nearly all his 2015 batting stats in only fifty more plate appearances, a testament to both how anemic his offense was in 2015, and to how strong he has started 2017 despite the 0-24 streak early on.
Hedges’ recent success can be directly attributed to the work he has done with Zinter over the past two seasons, indicating the hitting coach’s effectiveness as a teacher. If some of the Padres’ other young hitters can make similar offensive strides under Zinter’s tutelage, the Padres may find themselves in a position to launch up the standings earlier than expected.