Last October, and four months removed from being drafted, catcher Austin Hedges proved to the Padres during instructional league that he was ready to make the jump to Class A Fort Wayne at age 19.
This year, Hedges, the No. 5 prospect in the Padres' organization and No. 82 overall prospect, according to MLB.com, didn't disappoint again during instructional league, though most of the raves were for his bat more than his advanced skills behind the plate, the trait the Padres fell in love with before the First-Year Player Draft in 2011.
"He was awesome. He was pretty advanced, offensively," said Randy Smith, the Padres vice president of player development and international scouting. "He has an advanced approach right now. It's funny, 12 months later and we're raving about his offense."
Hedges, who turned 20 on Aug. 18, spent the entire season with Fort Wayne of the Midwest League and hit .279 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in 373 plate appearances. A second-round pick in 2011, Hedges will begin next season with Class A Lake Elsinore of the California League.
"He knows what he's trying to do with each pitch, each at-bat, and he stays in the middle of the field," Smith said. "Behind the plate, he's cleaned up a lot of things in the last half of the year. I think it's just the progression of catching every day, knowing you can't take a pitch off."
Hedges hit .643 in 14 at-bats in games during instructional league and had a line-drive home run and a triple facing a Mexican League team in Tucson, Ariz. He was named the most outstanding offensive player during instructional league play.
"He crushed," Smith said.
Justin Hancock was named the outstanding pitcher of instructional league. Hancock, a 21-year-old right-hander, was picked in the ninth round of the 2011 Draft. He began the season at Fort Wayne, had a nice April and then was hit hard in May. He finished with short-season Eugene, posting a 1.61 ERA.
"He's a guy with more confidence, he showed a better breaking ball and a more aggressive attitude," Smith said. "It was a different approach on the mound."
The most improved pitcher honor went to 21-year-old Tayron Guerrero. Guerrero is pushing 6-foot-8, has a big arm, as evidenced by the multiple occasions where he was clocked at 100 mph.
"He's a huge kid, a super kid, with a really good arm," Smith said. "His slider was improved and that's going to be another weapon for him. He was throwing that 87-90 mph."
Guerrero will likely be a part of Fort Wayne's starting rotation in 2013.
One notable injury from instructional league was the torn left ulnar collateral ligament that 18-year-old outfielder Edwin Moreno suffered. Moreno hit .298 in 42 games for the Padres' Arizona League entry. Smith said he'll be able to start hitting in April and could return in June or July.
Elsewhere, the Arizona Fall League started on Tuesday with eight members of the organization on the Peoria Javelinas roster: pitchers Robbie Erlin, Kevin Quackenbush, Josh Spence and Matt Stites. The roster also includes infielders Cory Spangenberg, Jeudy Valdez, Nate Freiman and outfielder Rymer Liriano.
Spence is a substitution for pitcher Casey Kelly, who the Padres decided to shut down with two weeks left in the regular season and also for the Arizona Fall League because his arm wasn't bouncing back as strong following starts.