Depth behind the plate now a strength
Padres loaded at catcher's spot throughout organization
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nick Hundley was 24 years old and had all of 316 games of Minor League experience at catcher when he was promoted from Triple-A Portland to the Padres during the 2008 season.
Hundley moved fast through the Padres' system because of his ability but also because there weren't a whole lot of quality catchers standing as roadblocks along the way.
"We had a dearth of catching at that time," said Triple-A Tucson manager Terry Kennedy, who has been with the organization since 2008.
Things have certainly changed, as the Padres might well have the deepest catching corps -- from the big league level to the deepest levels of the Minor Leagues -- in the Major Leagues.
"It's gotten a lot better over a short period of time," Hundley said. "And bringing in guys like John Baker and Brad Davis was big because they're two guys who are big league ready. Then you have all the young guys that are pushing us.
It starts at the Major League level with Hundley, who recently signed a three-year contract extension. His backup this season will be Baker. At Triple-A, Yasmani Grandal -- a critical piece to the December trade with the Reds -- will start and be backed by Davis, who has big league experience with Florida.
"It was good for him," Padres manager Bud Black said of Grandal, who hit .353 this spring. "I thought he had a good camp. The last 10 days he showed some great at-bats."
Black mentioned Eddy Rodriguez, Ali Solis and Jason Hagerty on Wednesday when he talked about the catching depth in the system. At the lower levels, there's 2011 second-round Draft selection Austin Hedges, Rodney Daal and Jose Ruiz, a 17-year-old who signed with the team for $1.1 million last July.
Another player the Padres are very high on is Casey McElroy, who was drafted in the 11th round out of Auburn as an infielder in 2011. He made the conversion to catching during the fall instructional league.
"It's deep," Black said of the catching depth.
Hedges, who is 19, figures to be the gem of that group with refined and advanced catching skills. He will begin the season with Class A Fort Wayne, where he figures to be one of the youngest players in the Midwest League.
Kennedy, who caught 14 seasons in the Major Leagues and appeared in four All-Star Games, had the chance to watch Hedges recently and came away impressed.
"It's pretty impressive that a guy at that age is so advanced," Kennedy said. "It's a mature stance, he moves like he's been playing for years professionally. He can throw the ball really well. I see him as [throwing to second base] 1.8 to 1.85 seconds consistently. It's a matter of him catching a lot of pro games."
And while it may appear that the Padres have too much catching, Kennedy disagrees.
"I don't think you ever have enough," he said. "Some guys won't catch, they might play other positions. It's a nice problem to have. The value of a catcher is a big chip."