If anyone can make an accurate assessment of JSerra Catholic catcher Austin Hedges'
talents, it's his coach Brett Kay. After all, he's been coaching him for seven years.
So when Kay says that Hedges has the mechanics and defensive talent to win a Gold Glove in the Major Leagues right now, he probably has plenty of evidence to back up just such a claim.
"What sets him apart is, his tools. Physical and mental," said Kay. "He is super agile and super athletic for a catcher. His acumen for the game is uncanny for a high school catcher. I have seen a lot of catchers in my day, and he is by far the best I have ever seen. Arm strength, receiving, block and retrieve, game calling are his strong suits."
Kay said that Hedges' talent has been evident from the first day he put him behind the plate as a freshman.
"We were playing against Orange Lutheran and facing Gerrit Cole, and there was absolutely no fear in his eyes facing 94-96 that day," said Kay. "Our catcher that day struggled a bit, and I threw Austin in the fire and in the first inning they tried to attack him. He threw out a guy by about 20 feet, and in that moment, for a high school freshman, I knew that our thoughts were pretty accurate. This kid will be special."
So far Hedges hasn't let anyone down. He's regarded as one of the top catchers in the country and ranks No. 11 on the MaxPreps Top 100 Baseball Players list
. As a sophomore he was the Trinity League MVP and last year he batted .420 with four home runs, eight doubles and two triples. He also earned National Defensive Player of the Year honors from Rawlings.
More importantly, he tries to play the game the right away.
"Brett Kay has taught me everything about catching and the way I conduct myself on and off the field," said Hedges. "I try to model myself after how he played and the way he teaches me to play."
Kay notes that Hedges takes direction well and is always willing to improve as a ballplayer.
"Everything that this kid does is to better himself in life and in athletics," said Kay. "He has always had the knack to want to learn how to get better regardless of the situation. He comes to the coaches for advice on anything and is very coachable in every facet."
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Hedges has the size and strength to be a solid catcher at the next level. However that wasn't always the case.
"He used to be a runt at about 5-6 and 120 pounds dripping wet," said Kay. "To watch him grow from a runt to a pretty special person has been one of the neatest things for me to witness."
Hedges says that he has known from pretty much day one that he wanted to be a professional ballplayer some day.
"When I first started playing T-Ball I wanted to be a professional baseball player and that has never changed," he said.
This past year, Hedges has taken steps toward achieving that goal. He played in the Aflac All-American Game over the summer as well as the Area Code Games in Long Beach. He also participated in the USA 18U Team Trials.
"They all were great experiences because it was good for me to see and face the best competition in the country," said Hedges. "I just wanted to see how I could compare myself with a bunch of players who I had never played against before. The most memorable moment was hitting a double and throwing a guy out at second in the Aflac Game."
Hedges gets to see some of the best talent in the country right at home in Orange County. He says that Henry Owens of Edison (Huntington Beach) is one of the best players he faced over the summer.
"Edison will be the toughest team we face because they are deep in pitching and solid offensively," said Hedges. "I think we have a real good shot at going far because we are deep offensively and our pitching is slowly becoming a big aspect of our game."
Hedges has signed with UCLA. It will allow him to stay close to his home in San Juan Capistrano.
"It has been home for me since I was 7 so the small town is a peaceful place and will always feel like home to me," he said. "It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, town in California and the old school setting with some great backdrops signifies home to me."
While Hedges acknowledges that the Major League Baseball Draft may be a part of his future very soon, he's not getting caught up in the hoopla.
"It is exciting, but clearly not my focus right now," he said. "My focus is to be a leader and get my team where we want to go. I always go with the motto 'Whatever happens, happens.'"