The Boston Red Sox will likely be looking for a backup catcher this offseason. They are also looking to save money though. With that in mind, there are two catchers in their minor league system that should get a serious look this Spring Training.
Christian Vazquez enjoyed a major breakout season at the plate for the Boston Red Sox in 2019. That’s fantastic because it was their biggest position of weakness in 2018. However, Boston still has a pretty serious problem. They have no backup.
For the last few seasons, it has been Sandy Leon (and Blake Swihart). The main reason he has stayed around though is because of how comfortable some of the pitchers are with him (and his 2016 season when he hit .310).
2017 saw him hit .225. Then he hit just .177 in 2018. That was followed up with a .192 average in 2019. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t hit for much power (17 home runs in those three seasons combined) and that he’s had issues with throwing out base runners.
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Those aren’t the only issues surrounding Leon though. The other problem is money. Now, based on the numbers you’d have to imagine he isn’t going to ask for much money at all. However, he will still probably command at least a bit over face value because of the pitching staff’s love of him and how poor catching depth is both in Boston and the Majors in general.
While paying a catcher barely more than minimum might not seem like a problem, it might be for the Red Sox. They’ve been talking quite a bit about wanting to cut costs. Due to that, spending a little extra for a backup catcher that can’t hit .200 doesn’t seem like it will be in the budget.
So if the Red Sox decide to bring back Leon, it will likely be on a minor league deal. That way they can give him a chance to win the job in Spring Training. If he doesn’t, they might be able to stash him in the minors just in case something pops up (this is the ideal situation, in my opinion, it never hurts to have good depth).
With all that in mind, Boston needs some cheap options at catcher. Lucky for them, they have two in the minors that should be given a fair chance to prove themselves this Spring.
I’ll talk about Nunez first because I think he’s the less likely of the pair. A switch-hitting catcher, Nunez has an interesting bat and solid defense, mixed with good athleticism. The 24-year-old hit .280 in Double-A last year. Over 211 at-bats he had 11 doubles, one triple, and five home runs. He also stole five bases. The doubles and home runs were career-highs.
Nunez deserves a shot in Spring Training because he has shown serious flashes over the last few years. However, Boston will likely want to give him a little more time. Over seven seasons, he’s played in just 331 games. The Red Sox might want to see if he can produce and stay healthy for a large chunk of a season first.
Then there’s Rei. I’ve always spoken very highly of him. He has very good defensive potential and great offensive upside. While his average has never been great, he draws a good amount of walks, making his OBP very solid. He also has shown the ability to hit for extra bases.
The right-handed hitter had 30 doubles and 38 RBI back in 2017 (in Advanced-A) to set a career-high. Then the next season (in Double-A) he had highs in average (.249), OBP (.355), slugging percentage (.392), triples (2) and home runs (7).
2019 was a setback. Injuries allowed Rei to only appear in 33 games. He hit just .175 in 97 at-bats between Rookie Ball and Double-A. You can see why I don’t take the numbers seriously though. Rei was returning from a serious injury that kept him out almost the entire year, and he had just 97 at-bats. All it would’ve taken was a good week and he’d be doing fine.
I wanted Rei to get a chance last year, but obviously he couldn’t because of the injury. Now he’s ready though. His average has gone up every year in the minors so far not counting the injury-plagued 2019. Meanwhile, his abilities behind the plate have improved exponentially. It’s time to give him a chance.
The Boston Red Sox have two great in-house options in Austin Rei and Jhon Nunez. If they are looking to save money, they need to look at these two as serious contenders for the backup catching position. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them won the job, and both turned heads while doing so.