The long journey on the path to recovery from elbow surgery just got a bit bumpier for Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez.
The 25-year old catcher is working his way back from Tommy John surgery that knocked him out for the entire 2015 season. Part of the process entails getting some plate appearances to help him find his swing again, but those at-bats are going to be harder than expected to find this winter.
Initially the plan was for Vazquez to serve as the designated hitter for his hometown team, the San Juan Senadores, in the Puerto Rican Winter league. Plans change though, which is exactly what had to happen when the team folded and Vazquez was moved to another team, Mayaguez. Unfortunately, Plan B didn’t work out either. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reports that Vazquez has been released, per his request, due to a lack of available playing time and the longer commute he would be forced to travel from his home.
Unless Vazquez manages to latch on with another team in Puerto Rico, he’ll be left to prepare for spring training on his own. It’s hardly unusual for players to take the winter off, but for a young catcher attempting to come back from a year away from the game, the experience clearly would have been to his benefit.
The good news is that the doctors say that Vazquez is healthy and there are no concerns with his surgically repaired elbow. For a player whose value stems primarily from his defense behind the plate, this is promising news. The issue is that Vazquez may not get the chance to get the necessary at-bats to improve his offense.
"“That’s probably one of the more difficult calls for me just because we don’t want to push him,” said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.” We want to make sure he’s ready. I don’t know if he’s going to be a guy who’s going to be ready to start at the big league level to contribute with what we need at this point, or not. We’re not sure. I figure we would make that decision in spring training.”"
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Vazquez will compete with a deep stable of catchers that includes rookie standout Blake Swihart and trusted veteran Ryan Hanigan. The organization remains high on Vazquez for his elite defense and pitch framing abilities, which give him the upside to be one of the best in the game behind the plate, but he can’t match what Swihart can do with the bat and still lacks Hanigan’s valuable experience.
A slow start in spring training could send Vazquez down to Pawtucket to begin the season, where he’d find sufficient at-bats to develop offensively. It’s not as ideal as getting this step out of the way in winter ball would have been, but at least the Red Sox have the depth at the position to be able to afford to bring Vazquez along slowly.
In the long run it would seem that both Vazquez and Swihart have too much value to simply split time between them, which is why we are bound to continue to hear rumors of shipping Swihart away in a deal for the front line starter this team so desperately needs. Dealing from a position of strength to fill their greatest need makes sense, but this setback for Vazquez serves as a reminder as to why the Red Sox can’t let Swihart go yet.
Perhaps they will manage to find a way to keep both of them, with Swihart’s athleticism allowing him to get some playing time at other positions on days that Vazquez is catching. They may even decide that Swihart’s production at the plate is more valuable than Vazquez’s behind it. This will all be sorted out in time, but with Vazquez looking less likely to be ready to start the season on time, it significantly raises the chances of Swihart getting the call to be the starting catcher on Opening Day.