Well, it finally happened. The path has been made clear for Austin Hedges to begin the year as the Padres starting catcher with the trade of veteran Derek Norris. Most would argue that Norris’ horrific year at the plate in 2016 (.186/.255/.328, 56 OPS+) all but guaranteed that Hedges would get the lion’s share of the playing time anyways, but with Norris being shipped off to the Washington Nationals, San Diego will avoid even a shred of catching controversy.
While Norris is a good buy-low/rebound candidate (he had the highest “hard contact” rate and “line drive” rate of his career last year, at 34.4% and 21.9%, respectively), he obviously doesn’t fit in the competitive window the Padres are shooting for. Hedges doesn’t have much left to learn at Triple-A El Paso (.326/.353/.597 with a career high 21 dingers and 82 RBI), so this afternoon, the time was right for AJ Preller’s first post-suspension trade.
In return for the 27-year-old one-time All Star, the Friars receive 19-year-old starting pitcher Pedro Avila. Celebrating his 20th birthday next month, the right-handed Venezuelan spent all of last year in Single-A Hagerstown, and figures to begin the 2017 season up the road from Petco Park with the Lake Elsinore Storm.
I’ve yet to find much of a scouting report for Avila on the interwebs, even though MLB.com had him as the Nats 23rd best prospect, but Christopher Crawford (@Crawford_MILB) provided a tidbit of info on him on Twitter.
Last year for Hagerstown, Avila made 20 starts, posting a 3.48 ERA while striking out almost a batter an inning (92 K’s in 93 frames). His walk totals could be lower (3.7 BB/9), but nothing really stands out too much, positively or negatively. He only went deeper than five innings three times (5.2 IP once and 6 IP twice), though it seems like he may have been at a low 80’s pitch limit. Looking at the game logs, he only allowed more than three runs in an outing three times.
Is it an ideal haul for Norris? Not if you compare it to what it took to acquire him (starting pitcher and curveball extraordinaire Jesse Hahn, and reliever RJ Alvarez). However, there are those that would’ve been happy to simply cut bait with Norris, so getting a young Single-A pitcher with upside is better than a kick to the face.
Look for Avila to be part of a pretty formidable rotation for the Storm this year, who will most likely have Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, and Jacob Nix as teammates at one point or another. In the meantime, the immediate reward of this trade is getting to see an unchallenged Hedges assume his rightful place behind the plate for many games. Best of luck to Norrisaurus Rex as he returns to the Nationals organization, the team that originally drafted him in 2007.