Red Sox have MLB’s best catching duo in Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez

Apr 9, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon (3) hits a two RBI double in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon (3) hits a two RBI double in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have a pair of catchers who are thriving at the plate and behind it this season, while another promising asset waits in Pawtucket.

We knew entering the season that the Boston Red Sox were deep at the catcher position, yet even at this early stage of the schedule, would anyone have imagined that this team would have the best catching duo in baseball?

Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez both have reputations as defensive-minded catchers and they’ve each lived up to that billing this season. Between the two of them they’ve nailed all four base runners that have attempted to steal against them, while commanding a pitching staff that ranks third in the American League with a 2.86 ERA through seven games.

Their ability to call a game from behind the plate or showcase their cannon arms to gun down base runners was never in doubt. The question was, can they hit?

Leon’s breakout 2016 season showed what he was capable of, although a late season fade left us wondering if it was all a mirage. He’s answered those questions by starting the season 7-for-19 (.368), while claiming a share of the team lead with 5 RBI in only five games.

If that wasn’t enough, the highlight of the season was Leon’s walk-off home run that broke a scoreless tie in the 12th inning of Boston’s second game of the season. No matter what he did after that, his heroics in that game tightened his grasp on the primary catcher role. Here we are a week later and his bat still hasn’t cooled off.

The only reason Leon could conceivably lose playing time is that Vazquez is off to an even better start. The career .244 hitter has never been one to contribute much at the plate, but his defense is so good that he earned a roster spot anyway. That decision is paying off so far, as he’s finally swinging the stick well enough to match his exceptional glove work.

More from Red Sox News

Calling this a perfect start to the season for Vazquez is no exaggeration. Through two games, he’s 5-for-5 at the plate and reached base twice by getting hit by a pitch. He’s the first Red Sox hitter to reach base in seven straight plate appearances to start a season since Ted Cox in 1977.

Last night, Vazquez swiped his first base of his major league career. Watching the play, I wondered if the play was meant to be a hit-and-run, only Andrew Benintendi let the pitch go after seeing it bounce in the dirt. Regardless, Vazquez was off with the pitch and easily made it into second base to pick up the steal. He did steal 15 bases in his minor league career, so perhaps it’s an element he intends to add to his game.

Vazquez was also a home run short of the cycle in Tuesday’s victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The big hit came in the 8th inning when he sliced one down the right field line that fell just outside of the reach of a sliding Seth Smith, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the inning. The ball bounced past Smith, allowing Vazquez to hustle around the bases for the second triple of his career, while driving in a pair of runs to essentially put the game out of reach.

While neither technically has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title race in the early going, the pair of Red Sox catchers own the two highest batting averages on the team. They are hitting a combined .500/.538/.875 with two doubles, a triple and a home run over 24 at-bats.

Those triple slash line numbers rate ahead of any catching tandem in the majors. A few other teams have catchers that are off to hot starts at the plate, but to have two of them is unfathomable. Combine that with their outstanding defensive skills and it’s no stretch to say that the Red Sox have the best catching duo in baseball so far this season.

Now the question is whether or not they can keep it up. Obviously, Vazquez won’t remain perfect at the plate all season. Their production will taper off, although maybe not as much as you might expect.

More from Red Sox News

Leon proved last season that he was capable of hitting at a high level for a solid three months before wearing down under a heavy workload late in the season. If Vazquez hits well enough to earn at least a couple of starts per week it will go a long way toward keeping Leon fresh for the stretch run.

Counting on Vazquez to contribute offensively is a bit harder to believe, yet there are reasons for optimism outside of what we’ve seen in a minuscule two-game sample. Last season he worked on his mechanics down in Pawtucket, eliminating a leg kick that allows his swing to be quicker to the ball. This new approach proved effective when he played for his native Puerto Rico in winter ball, where he hit .405 in 13 playoff games.

The strong start from both catchers leaves Blake Swihart‘s future with the organization a mystery. The 25-year old was the odd man out to begin the season, in part because he needed more time to polish his defensive skills, but mostly because he was the only catcher among the trio with minor league options. Swihart is forced to wait patiently at the Triple-A level for his chance to shine, except that opportunity may not come at all this season if both catchers on the Red Sox roster keep producing.

Next: Sale no stranger to lack of run support

With Boston’s offense scuffling a bit amid injuries, bereavement and rampant flu viruses, it’s been the two catchers that have stepped up to help carry the load. The Red Sox lineup may not be as formidable as it was last year, but with their catchers providing solid production near the bottom of the order this will still remain a dangerous offense.