Over the years, the catcher has been an impact player for the Boston Red Sox. The question is whether Christian Vazquez will be that player for Beantown in 2015.
The 24-year-old native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico debuted in early July and never looked back. At least on the defensive side of the plate. He caught 52% of runners attempting to steal in 54 games. In September, Evan Brunell of The Bleacher Report discussed that same question, citing that “Vazquez’s aptitude in limiting the running game is extraordinary in Red Sox history. The last time a backstop with at least 300 innings caught cracked the 40 percent caught-stealing mark for Boston was Marc Sullivan in 1987, who split duties with Rich Gedman and John Marzano that season.”
Offensively, it was a different story.
In 175 at-bats, Vazquez hit only .230, with a decent .308 on-base percentage but also a poor .309 in slugging. He has some patience at the plate, but as a rookie, he fell pray to garbage pitches to try to make a meal. Opposing pitchers approached Vazquez aggressively, striking him out 33 times. Considering fellow rookie Mookie Betts had a much higher slugging percentage, Vazquez’s bat is not that threatening and may never get any more dangerous.
Cue the start of looking back.
Some experts argue that new prospect sensation Blake Swihart will be a force to be reckoned with in spring training. In a report by MiLB.com, Swihart, who is already on the Red Sox 40-man roster, moved up from number 61 to number 24 of the top 100 prospects in the minor systems. Much of that is due to his offensive talent. Vazquez cannot be touched defensively, but Swihart hit well for Pawtucket, with a .377 in slugging a home run and 9 RBIs in only 18 games. “The bat just isn’t present enough in Vazquez to hold off Swihart, and a position change does not make sense for the latter player given his quality defensive skills as well” (Brunell).
In today’s game, it is likely true that the Red Sox brass may give up defense for more offense; however, this action would be a mistake. We have seen how often defensive players, especially as a catcher, can anchor and stabilize a team’s ability to win games. Ask former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia during the 2013 playoffs how that plays out. Scratch that and ask all of Red Sox Nation about his performance, if they have stopped gasping for air to answer you. A stellar defensive catcher is important to give a pitching staff confidence. If they worry about runners on base, pitchers lose their focus and throw beach balls. If a catcher can frame more pitches, he can help his pitching staff get out of innings. These are all positive skills that everyone agrees that Vazquez excels at compared to any catcher in the Red Sox system or even in the major league rosters.
If Swihart can close the gap on defense, then maybe Vazquez should start to worry about a trade. Until then, Vazquez should be the starting catcher for the Red Sox in 2015. He will only be eligible for arbitration in 2018 and a free agent in 2021, so that gives the Red Sox a fun problem to have and a great catching combination for a number of years to come.