Blake Swihart versus Christian Vazquez – spring of 2016


Mary Ann or Ginger? Betty or Veronica? Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart?

The last may just be the big news of spring training of 2016 – if all goes according to plan the Red Sox could be holders of two young and competent catchers. A dilemma such as having too much money.

Right-handed Vazquez, age 24, came up through the Red Sox ranks with the tag “He plays MLB defense now” with the subset of “If he could only hit.” Sometimes the bat has to catch up to the glove and sometimes the glove to the bat. Sometimes it never happens as shown by Ryan Lavarnway.

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Vazquez managed a .240 average with one home run and 15 RBI. Vazquez had an ISO of 0.69 and a wOBA of .277 in 201 plate appearances. Nothing spectacular and no Johnny Bench or even Jason Varitek numbers with the bat. The calling card was defense. That is where the shine is that gets attention.

The number that shines in the small defensive sample is 52 as in 52% CS (caught stealing) rate. The message is out that you run on Vazquez it can be risky. The number is somewhat of a surprise since the Pawtucket figure was 40%, but in spring training Vazquez drew the usual complements one would expect with runners being cut down or intimidated by an arm that was well displayed.

The Red Sox have handed over the catching chores to Vazquez. Gone is backup David Ross replaced by backup Ryan Hanigan. The Sox have bolstered their offense with several expensive additions and the message is clear – tough at bats and iron clad defense and you get 120+ games. Vazquez has the nimble movements desired of an elite defensive backstop and, of course, his game calling skills are mentioned in the positive.

Blake Swihart was the opposite – a very promising bat and room to grow on defense. And, grow he did advancing to the number one prospect in the Red Sox system and the player that is mentioned in every trade scenario.

Split between Portland and Pawtucket the switch hitting Swihart slashed .293/.341/.469 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI in 451 plate appearances. Toss in 26 doubles and the 22 year-old has some nice gap power. But what about defense?

Swihart has all the positives behind the plate. Sox Prospects has the defensively flowery terms such as “Fluid,” “Excellent reflexes,” and “Smooth release.” Swihart managed a 47% CS rate at Portland and a joint 38% in 2014.

Swihart will be in Pawtucket for 2015. Expect him to stay as long as the Red Sox catching tandem stays healthy and performs as expected. Swihart will be getting seasoning and if his bat and glove continue their impressive performance the Sox will have an intriguing spring in 2016.

The athletic Swihart has been mentioned as potential trade material and as a potential position switch. Swihart is also projected with a higher offensive upside than Vazquez, but Vazquez with a higher defensive upside. Such problems.

*** Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs