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Is Francisco Mejia the new starting catcher?

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MLB: San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Uncertainty around the Padres catching position has been nearly a 12-month storyline.

Questions about the future of incumbent starter Austin Hedges began in earnest when the team shipped elite closer Brad Hand and emergent setup man Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians for just one player—highly regarded “catching” prospect Francisco Mejia.
The Indians has moved the switch-hitting Mejia around the diamond in his last season with the team—first to third base, later to the outfield—and many fans figured that he might be ticketed for third in San Diego. Of course, that wasn’t the case, and the Padres ultimately started Mejia at catcher in 10 of their September games, despite a second-half in which Austin Hedges hit a torrent of home runs.

It seemed fair to assume that some sort of catcher-by-committee situation was in the offing for 2019. After all, Mejia’s hitting prowess and the longstanding defensive reputation of Hedges would, in theory, make for a nicely balanced platoon.

But when AJ Preller was consistently tied to J.T. Realmuto—the top catcher on the 2018 offseason trade market—indications were that no such assumptions were safe. Padres fans were left guessing—did the team have faith in either of their young catchers?

In today’s Union-Tribune, Kevin Acee details yet another development in the ongoing struggle for power behind the plate—that Saturday will mark Mejia’s fourth consecutive start.

Though the offensive regression of Austin Hedges surely had something to do with Francisco’s recent recall, Acee seems to indicate that the recent change has more to do with Mejia’s growth in a few key areas, and less to do with Hedges’ failure to secure the job. Andy Green’s quote reflects that this stretch of play represents a “reset” opportunity for Hedges.

Another interesting pull quote comes from Rod Barajas, who adds a little perspective to some of Mejia’s defensive shortcomings at the time of his acquisition in 2018.

Perhaps many of us didn’t take into account the mental toll (anxiety, self-doubt) that might accompany your previous employer moving you across the diamond and then promptly dealing you. Acee also points out that Mejia’s developing English and naturally introverted nature may have played a role in his feeling less-than-at-home immediately following the trade from Cleveland. When placed in a competition against Austin Hedges—a gregarious Southern Californian with respect in the clubhouse—Mejia likely felt like a bit alienated on his own team.

Hopefully Frankie’s integration to the team is more complete by this point, and recent performances by Eric Lauer and Logan Allen speak well to his guiding hand behind the plate. The Padres catcher is a work in progress, but today marks another opportunity to see that work in action.