Sandy Leon has been outplaying starting catcher Christian Vazquez to the point where the Boston Red Sox need to give him more playing time.
Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon is starting to emerge from his season-long slump, showing signs of his 2016 Cinderella season that turned him into a fan favorite.
Leon looked lost at the plate in the early part of the season. The backup catcher was seeing limited playing time and was a black hole in the lineup when called upon. The Red Sox committed to Christian Vazquez with a three-year extension this spring. They also have Blake Swihart, a former catcher who might still be able to play the position and is out of minor league options, vying for a role. The longer Leon struggled, the more it was beginning to look like his time with the Red Sox was running out.
Nobody is wondering about Leon’s job security now. Not with the way he’s hitting lately. Leon is 5-for-11 over the past week and hitting a blistering .361 with a 1.036 OPS in May.
Leon is coming off his first three-hit performance of the season on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. All three hits went for extra bases. He collected his second home run of the season and added a pair of doubles. Granted, one of those hits was a dribbler that barely made it out of the infield. Leon got the benefit of some poor defense but it still counts as a double in the boxscore and the lead-footed Leon deserves credit for hustling.
Through April, Leon was the clear second-fiddle to Vazquez. Leon started only one of the first seven games this season. He would often sit for at least two days between starts. For one stretch near the end of the month, Leon sat for four consecutive games. He was hitting a pitiful .107 at the time so there certainly were no outcries from fans wondering where Leon was.
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As Leon has started to heat up this month, his playing time has increased. There have still been a couple of occasions where he has sat multiple days in a row but never more than two at a time. Generally, he’s been alternating every other day with Vazquez. He’s already received 36 at-bats in May, more than the 31 combined in March/April.
His hot streak and increased opportunities have boosted his season average to a respectable .254 with a .694 OPS. Not too shabby considering where those numbers were a few weeks ago.
Vazquez isn’t doing much to fend off the streaking Leon. He’s hitting .194 this season and has only been moderately better this month. Vazquez owns a .465 OPS this season that ranks next to last in the league among hitters with 125+ plate appearances.
Both catchers come with a reputation of being elite defenders behind the plate, although neither has particularly impressed in that department this year. Leon has been above-average with 1 defensive run saved, while Vazquez has -3 DRS. Leon has yet to throw out an opposing base stealer in eight attempts. Vazquez hasn’t been much better with a caught stealing percentage of 25%.
The bat of Leon will eventually cool off. His 2016 season was magical but he eventually crashed back to Earth. Who knows how long he will ride this current streak. The Red Sox need to take advantage of this production while it lasts. As long as Leon stays hot – and as long as Vazquez is ice cold – expect the backup catcher to steal more playing time away from the starter.