The success story of Leon is probably the most fascinating, as not only did he endure nearly a decade in the minor leagues, but also when the 2016 baseball campaign commenced, he was the fourth catcher on the depth chart.
In order for Leon to receive regular playing time, a modern-day miracle would be required. Three catchers who were ahead of him on the depth chart would need to fall victim to an injury or fail to produce in order for Leon to get an opportunity.
In addition, were he to receive said opportunity, he had to produce immediately because it is likely that he was on a very short leash.
It was almost the perfect storm. Swihart jams his ankle in a June 4 contest against the Blue Jays, while, in that same contest, Ryan Hanigan strains his neck. Swihart’s injury was season ending and Hanigan’s forced him to miss a month. Toss in Christian Vazquez’s total lack of offensive production, and Leon is awarded an opportunity.
Getting said opportunity was incredibly improbable; however, Leon’s seizure of the opportunity embodies what baseball and the Great American Dream represent.
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The Red Sox acquired Leon on March 30, 2015 from the Washington Nationals for “cash considerations.” In hindsight, that was the going price for a catcher that nobody expected to stick at the Major League level.
Leon’s minor-league resume is rather unimpressive. In 612 games, he made 2319 plate appearances, and produced a Batting Average/On-base Average/Slugging slash line of just .238/.325/.330.
Prior to 2016, in 75 games and 235 Major League Plate Appearances, Leon’s slash was .187/.258/.225. Other than outstanding defensive tools, Leon would have to lose at least 40 pounds just to “hit his weight.”
Entering 2016, the Red Sox had Leon tabbed as their fourth-string catcher, behind Swihart, Vazquez, and Hanigan. It appeared that Divine Intervention was required for Leon to get his first prolonged opportunity as a Big League catcher.
On June 4, 2016, in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Blake Swihart severely sprained his left ankle when his foot was caught in the base of the left-field sidewall at Fenway. Swihart would require season-ending surgery.
In that very same game, Ryan Hanigan, the back-up catcher, strained his neck, and was placed on the DL; he would miss a month.
After Swihart and Hanigan were placed on the DL, Vazquez was the only available backstop for the Red Sox. It was at this time when the Red Sox purchased Leon’s contract from Triple-A Pawtucket.
Leon was initially to serve as the back-up catcher; however, in his few opportunities starting for Christian Vazquez, Leon produced some remarkable results at the plate.
By mid-June, Leon and his offensive production had replaced Vazquez in the role of starting catcher. After all, in 57 games and 184 PA, Vazquez’s slash was a mere .227/.277/.308 with 1 HR, 12 RBI, and 39 Ks.
For Vazquez, the writing was on the wall; on July 4, 2016, Hanigan was activated from the DL, Vazquez was optioned down to AAA, and Leon had finally reached his destination.
Incidentally, in addition to Leon’s offensive prowess, producing a .310/.369/.476, he ranked third in the AL in throwing out would-be base stealers at a 41.2% clip.