Around the Horn: Padres set for changing of the guard at catcher

With Norris in DC, 24-year-old Hedges takes the reins

Around the Horn: Padres set for changing of the guard at catcher

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2017 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today we preview San Diego's catchers.

Mark Dec. 2, 2016, as a significant day in the Padres' transformation. That was the day the Austin Hedges era officially began in San Diego.

Entering the offseason, one of the Padres' top priorities was finding a trade partner for Derek Norris. On Dec. 2, general manager A.J. Preller dealt his starting catcher of the past two seasons to Washington for pitching prospect Pedro Avila. While Avila figures to be a nice addition to the farm system, the trade was far more significant in terms of what it meant behind the plate.

It's Hedges' team now, make no mistake about it.

"We have a young catcher in Austin Hedges who has put himself in position to be our everyday guy," Preller said last month. "They don't give away Major League starting opportunities. You've got to earn it. What Hedgie's done is put himself in position to earn that job."

Barring something unforeseen in Spring Training, Hedges -- who batted .326/.353/.597 with Triple-A El Paso last year -- will win that job. That much seems even more likely with backup Christian Bethancourt also experimenting in the outfield and on the mound.

Bethancourt's three-RBI double

In that regard, Bethancourt's versatility should help with the roster math. He will potentially serve as the primary backstop, as well as a fifth outfielder and an eighth reliever.

"You want to be able to bring in as many catching options as possible," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "It's really hard to find catching prospects, so we felt like this was a creative way to try to add one into the system."

Projected starter: Hedges

Potential backups: Torrens, Bethancourt, Hector Sanchez

Top 30 prospects: Torrens, No. 23; Austin Allen, No. 27

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.