The Pittsburgh Pirates dipped into the free agent pool once again, signing Austin Hedges to a one year, $5 million contract, making him in all likelihood the starting catcher heading into 2023.
There isn’t much to say about him offensively, as he has never been that great of a hitter in the majors. He did hit seven home runs in just under 300 at-bats, which isn’t bad considering Pirates’ catchers hit just nine collectively over the course of the 2022 season.
Offense isn’t what he is here for, as his value comes from his work behind the plate, where he is one of the better defensive catchers in the game right now.
Since 2015 when he made his major league debut, only 21 catchers have logged at least 4,000 innings behind the plate, and Hedges leads them all in defensive runs saved (Fangraphs) and trails only Yasmani Grandal in pitching framing runs saved (FRM – 64.7).
Hedges managed one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball last year, caught in 105 games (started 97), and was a part of the 92-win Cleveland Guardians season.
That will be big for the Pirates in 2023, who allowed the third most runs and posted the fifth worst ERA in baseball last year. They will also be a younger unit, as the six main candidates to start the year in the rotation are an average of about 26 years-old.
After signing Tyler Heineman to a minor league contract the other day, it looks like there is a possibility that we will see the duo start the season in the majors as the catching tandem.
Heineman is another catcher who struggles to hit, but makes up for it on the defensive side of things.
Both players graded out very well in 2022 defensively, especially when you consider Heineman logging less than 400 innings at catcher.
The duo combined for a 8.6 FRM (framing runs saved), which would have been the sixth highest team mark in baseball last year.
In a day and age where exit velocity and all things offense rule so much of the talk, catcher is still the one position where offense actually comes third, behind defense and work with the pitching staff.
The Pirates showed that they are going to prioritize the second two, at least for now. While the offense struggled last year, the team has made other moves in trying to improve there — between Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi and even internally with a full season and progression of Oneil Cruz.
Instead of turning to the catcher position to improve the offense that already features multiple staples in the organization, they are looking for some to help a young pitching staff trying to make the next step in their development.
Highlight of the Day
Pirates Prospects Daily
By Tim Williams
**As noted above, the Pirates are signing Austin Hedges. I like the move. The Pirates didn’t want to block Endy Rodriguez, but Rodriguez has very little experience catching in the upper levels. You’re not getting a two-way option on a one-year deal. There are a lot of benefits to going with a defensive catcher, as Antony laid out above.
**John Dreker has an update on Andres Alvarez in his latest Pirates Winter Report.
**It’s been awhile since I’ve stirred things up on Twitter. The first tweet is actually the topic I was going to write on Wednesday, but I held it off for a later time. Monday’s First Pitch is going to be fun.
**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at how the Pirates could best use Cody Bolton.
Song of the Day
Pirates Prospects Weekly
John Dreker had an update on Andres Alvarez in this week’s Pirates Winter Report, talking with Alvarez and his manager, Jose Mosquera, about his offseason progress.
Ethan Hullihen will have his latest Pirates Business article on Sunday.