Before the season started, there was debate over who would be the future starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox: Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart. At the time, it was hard to tell what would happen. Vazquez looked like a solid defensive catcher with an improving bat while Swihart’s bat had a ton of potential and his defense was improving quickly. Both men looked like viable options in the future, but Vazquez already had proven himself with Boston the year before. That experience led many to believe that he would be the 2015 starter, without question.
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Then, Vazquez got injured and required Tommy John surgery before the regular season even started. While Vazquez waited to heal, Swihart has had a chance to prove himself a few times, being called up to the big club to play 42 games this year, so far.
Now, reports of Vazquez’s comeback have also begun. Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com reported the event: “For the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 2, catcher Christian Vazquez threw on flat ground on Thursday in Houston. The 24-year-old catcher will begin an every-other-day throwing program as part of his recovery program.” Once he regains full range of motion in his throwing arm, Vazquez will work to see how his at-bats will be affected by the surgery “in the instructional league in Florida followed by winter ball.”
Do not expect Vazquez any time soon to help the Red Sox in the 2015 season. Since he’s a catcher, Vazquez’s arm will need to withstand a daily whipping, instead of being able to rest every four days like a pitcher’s arm would.
If everything shapes up the way that everyone in the Red Sox organization hopes that it would, it makes for a reintroduction into the catching debate in Boston. In a conversation on social media, these comments were posted:
There is much to discuss, especially at this time of the year with the trade deadline looming ever closer. Should the Red Sox deal Swihart, knowing that Vazquez will be making the comeback trail for the start of next season? Should Boston play Swihart every day for the rest of 2015 to prepare him for being the starter in 2016?
Hanigan was always considered to be the backup catcher when he was brought in to start the season. He was the veteran who could settle down any young pitchers, or even Swihart or Vazquez, and help them train their minds for the grind that comes with being a part of the baseball battery. Leon was picked up to help the campaign when Vazquez went down. Either way, Swihart must have been thought of as too young to jump right into the starter’s role full-time.
With the bat, however, Swihart has been hanging with the big boys more than his counterparts. Swihart has hit .237 with a home run and 11 RBIs. Like many rookies, Swihart has the tendency to strike out, which he’s done 37 times and has brought down his on-base percentage to .279. However, his power at a .317 slugging percentage has been better than both Hanigan (.286) and Leon (.191), and that’s with only 139 at-bats under the rookie’s belt. Leon’s four-year career has only earned him the trust from his teams to play him in 62 games and have 184 at-bats. Hanigan’s nine-year career has netted 1 670 at-bats with a slash line of .254/.353/.338, making Swihart’s production look more like brewing potential if realized in the big leagues.
Vazquez’s bat in his rookie season, last year, netted him a home run and 20 RBIs with a slash line of .240/.308/.617 in 175 at-bats. He had 33 strikeouts in those 55 games, four less whiffs than Swihart in 36 more opportunities.
Jun 26, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, Swihart has had trouble adjusting, due partially to his inexperience and partially because of the pitching staff’s own troubles. Swihart has had 24 wild pitches while catching and has six passed balls. However, he has done well enough to catch 10 base out of 34 stealing attempts, which calculates to 29% of all opportunities. It’s worth noting that Hanigan is 7-for-25 (28%) and Leon is 9-for-16 (56%). Vazquez had 16 wild pitches, eight passed balls, and was 15-for-29 (52%) in catching potential base thieves.
The numbers are hard to compare when it comes to Vazquez and Swihart, as they have dealt with completely different starting pitchers not named Clay Buchholz. Yet, both seem to have potential that surpasses Hanigan or Leon. The answer to the catching situation partially lies in how well Vazquez’s arm heals before 2016. Even if Vazquez’s arm regains full range of motion and is as strong as it was before, Swihart isn’t just a prospect anymore. Both Vazquez and Swihart have around the same sample size of games at this point, with similar numbers.
At the moment, taking for granted that he will be back where he left off, Vazquez looks to have just edged Swihart in defensive results and offensive production. However, Swihart’s potential could skyrocket past Vazquez, with Swihart having more playing time to learn the craft from both sides of the plate. And that’s before anyone tries to predict Vazquez’s health a year from now. Highly unlikely that anyone trades for Vazquez’s question marks, but other teams will put Swihart in high demand before the trade deadline ends as well as in the off-season. Will any moves be made? Check here for the latest.
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