3/12/18 Peoria, AZ
On our last day of Spring Training, we caught up with San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges during camp and chatted with him about the competition for the backup catcher position. He talked about how a positional battle makes players and teams better and what some of the guys competing have showed him in camp. He also told us what he believes he brings to the position. And he shared with us what Padres fans can get excited about this season. Check out our Q&A with Austin below.
Q: What has the competition for backup catcher been like in camp?
A: Everybody has been working so hard, we’ve got such a great group of guys here. It’s tough when you are competing with your peers, guys that you respect and everybody is trying to get each other better and at the same time trying to fight for that job. I mean, I’ve been there in the past and it’s tough but it says a lot about the people that we have in this clubhouse. Everybody that is fighting for a job, whether it’s at the catcher position, outfield, pitcher – the people in here care about each other and obviously they are fighting for that job but if they lost it to somebody, they are going to lose it to somebody they respect and that earned it and I think that says a lot about our front office and the people that they brought into this clubhouse.
Q: What has it been like having a veteran like A.J. Ellis around?
A: He’s been really good to me so far. A lot of the stuff, especially in the film room – he’s a very, very experienced and advanced game-caller and preparing for a game plan. We have had quite a bit of dialogue just talking about what he looks for when preparing for a game and with his help I think he could take my game plan to the next level.
Q: Does Ellis go out of his way to help guys?
A: Absolutely. He might not admit it, but he’s a natural – it clearly comes naturally. He’s just looking to help people; he’s looking to get people better. He knows the type of role that he can have on the team, and I mean he’s done it for so long – he’s been in the big leagues for so many years for that reason and he’s already impacted this clubhouse in just the month that he’s been here.
Q: Is it true that regarding position competitions you want the guy you are competing against to do well so it pushes you to be better too?
A: Absolutely. You want to feel like you earned it – I mean this is the highest level, whatever job you get in the big leagues you are better than 99.9 percent of people at that position. So it’s definitely a very prestigious honor to be on that 25-man roster, to earn that position. I know that means a lot to Raffy Lopez, I know that means a lot to all the catchers that are trying to fight for a job. I just know that they have been really impressive and they have all been working really hard.
Q: What have you seen from Raffy Lopez specifically?
A: The big thing with Raffy is that he’s the same guy everyday and that’s very rare in this game. It’s such a hot and cold sport, you have your ups and downs but everyday that I have known Raffy, he’s been the same Raffy. And I think that says a lot about the person that he is. On the baseball side, the left-handed bat with power is huge. He’s an outstanding receiver, blocker, he checks off all the boxes behind the plate. And obviously having the power bat from the left hand-side is huge and that’s a very rare thing from the catcher position.
Q: What do you think you bring to the table as a catcher for this team?
A: I take a lot of pride in the leadership role on this team. I like to think that – every pitch, everyone is looking at the catcher, whether you like it or not, whether they know it or not – every pitch they are looking at me and if they are looking at a guy for 150 pitches a game they are either looking at a guy that exudes confidence or a guy that is weak. And if they are looking at a guy that’s weak back there for 150 pitches over the course of 162 games it’s going to weigh on the guys. But if they see a guy that they want to fight for, fight with, that has their back, that’s locked in on every pitch trying to lead that pitching staff, lead that team to bring some victories to San Diego, I think that’s most important thing for me. If I can have that presence behind the plate then I think that will lead to a lot of success.
Q: Andy Green said that the catcher is the most important position on the field. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Every position is very important. Obviously you could argue pitcher too. But I play the catcher position for a reason, I love the position, I love everything that goes into it – the bumps, the bruises, and the grind of it. And the mental grind just as much as the physical grind. It takes a really special person I think to be able to play that position every day and the guys that are the best in the league – you look at the Buster Posey’s, the Yadier Molina’s – there is a reason those guys are the best. The work that they put in, the teammates that they are and the leaders that they are, those are all reasons that they win world championships and why they have played 10-plus years in the big leagues.
Q: Lastly, what would you like to tell Padres fans to be excited about heading into this season?
A: I think it’s going to be even better than last year. We gave them a little glimpse last year of what we are capable of – a lot of young talent that kind of grew together last year. And now, coming into really year two of this core group of guys and adding a lot of these veteran pieces here – there’s a lot of excitement for sure. They should expect a winning ball club. Because that’s what we are expecting of ourselves.