For a rookie fresh from the farm, Christian Vazquez has the confidence of a guy who’s been around the block a few times.
In his July 9th debut as the Red Sox catcher, Vazquez received a perfect throw from right fielder Mookie Betts and, realizing he had no chance to nab the runner at the plate, promptly fired a dead-on rocket to Brock Holt to pick off Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo at second base. The young trio looked flawless, with Vazquez serving as the pivotal figure in the play and a refreshing exemplar of both honed skill and smart decision-making.
“This is exciting,” I said, and for the first time this season, I didn’t say it sarcastically.
Since that game, Vazquez has emerged as a huge bright spot in a dreadfully dismal season for the Red Sox. He was called up from the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox to fill the roster spot vacated by A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment and is now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Vazquez’s addition to the lineup is in keeping with the new Red Sox philosophy of focusing on the future of the team because this season is a lost cause. And Vazquez, along with fellow rookies Betts, Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts, provide a much-needed injection of youth and energy, making for a potentially more promising 2015.
Offensively, Vazquez is an increasingly consistent contributor. His .596 OPS and .293 OBP in 20 games with the team are impressive for a newcomer still becoming familiar with big league pitching. In his second game with the Red Sox, Vazquez went 3-4 at the plate and drove in three runs in his team’s 8-3 win over the Houston Astros. His batting average remains below .300, but so do those of the majority of this batting order, so we can let that slide and chalk that up to a case of trying to fit in with his new teammates.
In reality, that’s ridiculous and he almost certainly isn’t lowering his standards because he doesn’t need to. The 23 year-old catcher is receiving universal praise from his teammates. In only his second start behind the plate with the Red Sox, Vazquez was paired with then-Red Sox pitcher John Lackey, a 12-year veteran of the game. But this mismatch of Major League experience was an issue for neither of them:
“He was awesome,” Lackey told reporters. “He really catches the ball well, really sticks the low pitch, really wants to learn, really executed the game plan we talked about beforehand. Did a great job.”
After fellow Red Sox catcher, and mentor, David Ross landed on the 15-day disabled list on August 2nd with a ruptured tendon brought on by a case of plantar fasciitis, Vazquez readily stepped up as a dependable replacement and highly impressed the man who has been showing him the ropes:
“He pays attention. He listens. He asks questions,” Ross said of Vazquez. “He’s better than advertised for me…I think he’s going to be in the big leagues a long time.”
Vazquez’s minor league, and now Red Sox, teammate, Brandon Workman, also expressed his confidence with the talented catcher behind the plate:
“He’s always been a great catch-and-throw,” Workman said. “But just the way he’s gotten used to using the scouting report and calling games and stuff like that. It’s been really impressive how he’s been able to adapt to doing that and understanding how to manage a staff. I’m sure having Ross around really helps that but he’s done an amazing job back there.”
Even though Ross is his source of guidance, Vazquez’s strong leadership on the field reflects the makings of the next Jason Varitek, the former team captain who led the Red Sox to two World Series championships and notably caught four no-hitters during his 14-year career with the team. Both catchers are mentally tough and possess the all-important quality of grace under pressure. It may be a bit premature, as Vazquez has only spent 31 days with the team, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t experience success akin to Varitek’s in some capacity. Maybe catching at least one no-hitter before his time with the team is up. Or even helping them win a championship. Or two.
Christian Vazquez is exactly what the Red Sox need right now. In a season lacking in much glamour and excitement, he seems almost too good to be true. The success Vazquez has demonstrated in his first month with the team is the result of his confidence and talent, sure, but it also comes from his own enthusiasm about this chance to contribute to the team’s turnaround: “My dream [is] to be here, to play in the big leagues,” he said, before adding simply, “I’m very happy.”
It should also be noted that Vazquez caught all 272 pitches from eight different Red Sox pitchers in last night’s 19-inning battle against the Los Angeles Angels. Even though his team ultimately lost, Vazquez’s stamina behind the plate and willingness to step up when needed is encouraging. He represents at least a shred of hope for the future of the Red Sox and will certainly be one of the faces of this team’s renaissance in 2015.