Red Sox versus: Sandy Leon vs Humberto Quintero


With less than a week before the start of the regular season, the Red Sox 25-man roster has largely been sorted out. However, with the recent curveball of Christian Vazquez‘s trip to the 60-day disabled list and potential Tommy John surgery, the position of backup catcher has become one of debate.

There was originally questions as to whether the Red Sox would rush top prospect Blake Swihart or go with a tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Humberto Quintero. The Red Sox appeared to answer that question yesterday, acquiring Sandy Leon from the Nationals and seemingly signifying that Swihart would start the year in Triple-A Pawtucket and that Hanigan would be the starter. After the addition of Leon, though, the Red Sox now have another battle on their hands, this time for the backup catching job, between Quintero and Leon.

There’s not an obvious frontrunner in the race and neither is a very heralded name, as Quintero was a non-roster invitee and the Nationals essentially dumped Leon to Boston for nothing. Backup catcher is hardly the most prestigious role on a baseball team, though, so there’s no reason to believe that the Red Sox can’t get viable production out of the position.

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So, without further ado, let’s break down this battle.

Sandy Leon, now 26 years old, has bounced between the Nationals and the minor leagues over the past three years. But while Leon hasn’t quite learned to hit at the major league level, sporting a career slash line of .189/.280/.253, he is well-regarded defensively. In his brief major league career, he has caught 40% of potential base stealers and he has been similarly good in the minors with a 45% caught stealing rate. In the minors, he has also shown the ability to swing the bat a little bit and he has a line of .257/.358/.414 in 70 games in Triple-A. He’s nothing special, but having a defense-only backup catcher isn’t really a huge problem.

Humberto Quintero has largely made a career as a backup catcher, spending most of his time in that role from 2008-2013, and he hopes to continue that in 2015. Like Leon, he has never been anything special with the bat in his hands and his career slash line of .234/.267/.327 reflects that. However, he doesn’t have the defensive presence of Leon. He has caught 33% of base stealers in his career, which is above average, but not as dominant as Leon’s 40% rate. At 35 years old, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him improve anytime soon but we’ll likely see him play above-average defense and provide almost nothing at the plate.

Considering his age (26 vs 35), superior defense, and likely superior offense as well, it appears that Leon is the no-brainer for this position. Both are low-risk players that will not make or break the Red Sox season but Leon has at least shown the ability to hit in the minors and his excellent defense is a good fallback plan. None of this will matter once Swihart is ready to contribute, but at the time, Leon is the man for the job.