PEORIA, Ariz. -- Out of the playoffs for a dark decade, the San Diego Padres are hoping a core of up-and-coming players can help brighten the future.
Among them is catcher Austin Hedges, who intends to stick around in the majors this time.
Hedges hit .326 with 21 home runs in 82 games at Triple-A El Paso last season. The Chihuahuas, led by the youngster, won the Pacific Coast League championship.
"I definitely learned a lot about myself," Hedges said Monday. "I learned how to win, too. It was a great ballclub, a great group of guys. A lot of them are here so it will be an exciting year for us."
Defense was never the issue for Hedges, 24, a second-round draft pick in 2011 . In his first shot at the big leagues in 2015, he threw out 33 percent of attempted base-stealers.
But he hit .168 with three homers in 56 games, and so last year the Padres went with veteran Derek Norris and sent Hedges back to the minors so that he could play every day.
Carlos Asuaje hit .321 in Triple-A, but is going back there as he's blocked by second baseman Ryan Schimpf. Hunter Renfroe, who will be San Diego's right fielder, hit 30 homers at El Paso, was called up and homered four times for the Padres in 35 at-bats. Outfielder Alex Dickerson also figures to be a starter for the big club once he has recovered from a back injury.
"I hope we can keep a lot of these guys around for a lot of years to come," Hedges said.
Hedges' personal performance and that of his teammates has led to optimism -- never in short supply at any spring training camp. But the Padres are coming off a last-place finish in the NL West and their sixth straight losing season.
A hamstring injury kept Hedges out for a week in mid-March, but he's back and ready to go, batting .278 in the spring. He didn't play Monday in the Cactus League game against Seattle because he was catching for veteran Jered Weaver in a minor league game earlier in the day.
"Everything's going real well. I think everyone's excited for the season to start a lot of young talent and a lot of veteran arms, too," he said. "It's always been my goal to be a big league starting catcher. It's exactly what I want to be doing."
Hedges is happy to be where he is, but even though the Dodgers and Giants have long dominated the division, the catcher thinks the Padres can eventually enter the equation too.
"I have very high expectations for us," he said.