Padres land prospect Avila, send Norris to Nats

Deal opens door for Hedges to be primary catcher

Padres land prospect Avila, send Norris to Nats

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres continued their youth movement Friday, parting ways with catcher Derek Norris in exchange for Nationals pitching prospect Pedro Avila.

A 19-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, Avila was rated as Washington's No. 23 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. Since signing with the Nats in 2014, he owns a 2.93 ERA with 10.58 strikeouts per nine innings over 34 career Minor League appearances.

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The deal clears room for Austin Hedges to become the Padres' primary catcher in 2017 -- a move that appeared likely even if Norris had remained on the roster. Hedges, who is considered the organization's catcher of the future, batted .326/.353/.597 with 21 homers for Triple-A El Paso last season. The 24-year-old is viewed by many in baseball as one of the game's elite young defenders.

"We're excited for a couple reasons," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "We're getting another quality pitching prospect in Pedro -- I think our scouting group is fired up about that. And the other thing that we've talked about is that we have a young catcher in Austin Hedges, who has put himself in position to be our everyday guy."

Norris is coming off the worst season of his career in which he posted a .186/.255/.328 slash line. He played 125 games and received some praise for his pitch-framing abilities. But with Hedges' arrival, a trade was always imminent.

Norris came to the Friars in December 2014 in the deal that sent Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to Oakland. He was solid in his first season in San Diego, but never got rolling in year two.

Rumors have swirled around Norris since the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but Preller opted to hang on to his starting backstop. The move made sense at the time, as it allowed Hedges to receive more seasoning at Triple-A -- while also guaranteeing the Padres an extra year of team control with Hedges.

Now, it certainly sounds as though the Opening Day job is Hedges' to lose. Hector Sanchez wasn't tendered a contract by the club Friday night, and Christian Bethancourt -- the only other backstop on the Major League roster -- is being converted into a rare type of super utility man who can also pitch.

"They don't give away Major League starting opportunities," said Preller. "You've got to earn it. What Hedgie's done is put himself in position to earn that job."

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For Preller, it's his first deal since he returned from his suspension for undisclosed medical information in a trade with the Red Sox. There had been speculation other clubs would be hesitant to deal with the Padres, but Preller said he hasn't had any issues.

Avila -- who boasts 184 career strikeouts to just 56 walks -- spent 2016 with Class A Hagerstown. Standing 5-foot-11, Avila boasts a low-90s fastball with a curveball that projects as a Major League out pitch. It stands to reason he'd begin the '17 campaign with Class A Fort Wayne or Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore.

"Good delivery, good arm action, three-pitch mix," Preller said. "... We'll be developing him as a starting pitcher and feel like he's got a chance to be a big league starter."

Avila's presence continues a running theme for the Padres. Since the start of June, the club has dealt veterans James Shields, Fernando Rodney, Drew Pomeranz, Melvin Upton Jr., Andrew Cashner, Matt Kemp and Norris in exchange for prospects and salary relief.

In the process, Preller has bolstered the club's once-depleted farm system, while driving a youth movement at the Major League level. At 27 and with five years of experience, Norris was considered a grizzled veteran by the standards of the Padres' roster -- which is composed exclusively of players in their 20s.

"If you're going to let some veteran players move along, you want to make sure you have some other guys coming along the pipeline that can fill their spots," Preller said. "We feel good about the guys we have at those spots."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.