Red Sox Round Table: Five questions to consider during spring training
By Sean Penney
Who will be the primary catcher in 2017?
Sean: Sandy Leon earned the right to enter the season as the starting catcher, but if he can’t recapture the magic that made him one of last year’s biggest surprises then he won’t hang on to it for long. Blake Swihart should start the year in Pawtucket to polish up his defense behind the dish, but his bat may ultimately force the Red Sox to find a spot for him in the lineup. I say Leon splits time with Christian Vazquez for at least the first couple of months to see if either can separate themselves from the other, but Swihart ultimately takes over when his competition can’t shake out of their slumps at the plate.
Daniel: Farrell has indicated that Leon will be penciled into the starting role to begin the season, which he deserves after the numbers he put up last season. Down the line, I’m not a huge fan of Leon’s. I would love it if his 2016 season wasn’t a fluke, and he maintained that level of performance into 2017, but the underlying numbers raise a ton of red flags. He hit .218 with no home runs in his final 24 games, including a 1-for-10 performance in the postseason. Prior to the 2016 season, he owned a 33 OPS+ in 235 career plate appearances. The rough stretch that ended the year looks more likely than his invincible stretch that started it. I’m still a big believer in Vazquez’ value as a defensive catcher. I won’t excuse his offensive production because he can’t afford to be as bad as he was in 2016. But if he’s ever able to approach league average numbers among catchers (.230 average, 84 OPS+) expect him to take over the starting position by virtue of his defensive value alone. Not to ignore Swihart, but he’s the only one of the trio that still has minor league options and will probably spend a good chunk of the season catching for Pawtucket.
Rick: Leon will be number one as long as he can hit in the .240 range. His power is not great, but better than Vazquez. If Vazquez is 100 percent recovered from Tommy John surgery, you have two catchers who are above average, but if you worship pitch framing then Vazquez has that edge. If Swihart figures out his throwing he could move to number one by June if the offense needs a boost.
David: Leon was a very capable defensive catcher and his bat was huge at the bottom of the lineup so I think he’s deserving of it.
Mike: This is a two-man race between Vazquez and Leon. While Vazquez is seen as the future behind the plate, Leon was extremely productive last season. I think Leon takes the job, but if he falters early it will transition to Vazquez.
Chris: Vazquez. I know he played well last year, but I still don’t trust Leon. It probably stems from all of these years living near Boston and listening to the “what have you done for me lately” sports talk, but after the way he hit down the stretch I don’t trust or want him to be the primary catcher. Catcher is a unique position in the sense that you don’t need someone who can hit, just someone that can call a game and throw out runners. Vazquez didn’t have the same arm that he did before his surgery, but as we’ve seen with pitchers, it takes at least a full year of game action to get back to normal. I think he should be a lot better this year and hopefully he can hit just a little better.