What Else Should Red Sox Fans Expect From Sandy Leon?

In 2016, Sandy Leon had a breakout season, hitting .310 and averaging at least one base knock per game. Leon had historically been a weak hitter during the first part of his career with the Washington Nationals. Some will say that it was leonbecause he finally had consistent playing time, while others will look to his changing plate mechanics. But perhaps his success may have been due to the unfamiliarity of Leon as an everyday player among major league pitchers.

Ultimately, the Red Sox benefited from Leon’s renaissance en route to a record-setting offense and an American League East title.

What should Red Sox fans expect from Sandy Leon in 2017?

Should they expect the same kind of explosive offensive production? What about the consistency?

Well, the only real explanation for any such prediction would be his recent performance and Spring Training statistics. In 13 games, Leon batted .265 with only 34 at-bats. Small sample size, but respectable considering much of Spring Training consists of low-level minor league players and journeyman bench players.

His Opening Day performance highlighted another element of Leon’s game. In the second inning, Leon threw out Gregory Polanco as he attempted to steal second. In the fifth, Leon beat the shift on a bunt down the third-base line with two outs, setting up a three-run home run by Andrew Benintendi.

Leon blasted a walk-off home run in the twelfth inning on Wednesday night to secure a hard-earned second win. He previously hit a single and double earlier in the affair.

But despite these factors, he is not alone at the catching position on the Red Sox depth chart. For the past couple of seasons, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart have been developing young catchers in the high minor league levels and, at times, the major league level. Vazquez has superb defensive ability and must work on his bat; Swihart is a reliable hitter who needs to improve his defense behind the plate—even though the Red Sox have toyed with him in left field.

The presence of Swihart and Vazquez puts pressure on Leon to be successful in 2017. Red Sox fans should expect him to have consistent, but not spectacular, contributions this season.

Christian Vazquez: Defensive Superstar in the Making

As soon as I saw the Spring Training video of Christian Vazquez shooting down Trevor Plouffe attempting to steal second base, I knew he was special, (the video is titled ‘Vazquez throws out Plouffe’ and can be found on MLB.com). They don’t just hand out the nickname “Little Yadi” to anyone. Vazquez emerged as the potential catcher of the future just a few years ago. Now, he is 26 years old, and we are still waiting to see if he can get the starting job behind the plate.

Ever since Vazquez reached the Major Leagues in 2014, it’s been clear that he struggles Christian Vazquezin the batter’s box. Vazquez has a career .233 batting-average in just 347 at-bats. Vazquez has showed signs though, as he crushed a home run over the Monster against Yankees RP Dellin Betances last year. Betances is one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball, and the fact that Vazquez could hold his own against him and go yard attests to his hitting ability. He simply gets overwhelmed at times against big league pitching.

Christian Vazquez vs. Sandy Leon

Sandy Leon emerged last season as the everyday catcher for Boston. He found success in our lineup, producing a .310 average. Leon only made one error behind the plate last year, and threw out 42% of potential base runners. Most Sox fans will see these numbers and immediately see Sandy Leon as the starter this year too, but not so fast.

Leon was one of the streakiest hitters on the team last year. He was the best hitter on the team at times, while at other times he couldn’t make contact. When he wasn’t hitting well, he was basically a liability. Not to mention, Sandy Leon was absolutely awful in the playoffs. He went 1-10 with 5 K’s against Cleveland in the divisional series. I have not seen enough consistent production from Leon to tag him with the Opening Day start this year; I’m also not John Farrell.

The Case for Vazquez

Christian Vazquez has the most raw talent in the Red Sox catching core. He can take over a game from behind the plate with his framing, and his blocking is advanced beyond his competition. Vazquez is a defensive beast, and it is very apparent when watching him work behind the plate in-game. He is the glue that holds the Red Sox defense together. Blake Swihart has shown an inability to improve upon his receiving thus far, and some say he has caught a case of the yips this spring. Sandy Leon has been a hit or miss in all aspects of his game. Who does this leave? Christian Vazquez, (or Mini Yadi).

Vazquez is dedicated to his craft. He is ready for the challenge that awaits him. We’re talking about a guy who is not only compared to Yadier Molina, but works out with him and his brothers in the offseason. Don’t forget, Molina is only a career .285 hitter. Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon have been inconsistent producers at catcher. Don’t get me wrong, Leon belongs in the lineup against lefties. John Farrell has already come out and said that Hanley Ramirez will DH against righties this year. Does this mean that against lefties we will see Leon DH, and Vazquez behind the plate? Sure, he still needs to improve his hitting. Once he does, there is no question as to who will be catching every day in Boston.

Sox Should Trade Blake Swihart

After moving Clay Buchholz to the bullpen and demoting Joe Kelly to Pawtucket, the Red Sox desperately need starting pitching. Their starters have been battered to the tune of a 4.79 ERA and .748 OPS this year, which isn’t a recipe for a successful season. Boston’s won anyways because the offense has been crushing it, but when happens when the lineup slumps? The Red Sox don’t really have much minor league talent ready to make an impact in the rotation, so the quickest and most direct way to an upgrade is through the trade market. To accomplish this, the Sox should trade Blake Swihart.

Not too long ago, such a proposal would have seemed outrageousSox Should Trade Blake Swihart. Swihart is a prized prospect, an athletic 24-year-old catcher who can switch-hit and provide plus offense at a premium position. Teams love to build around guys like that. He seemed destined to become the next Jason Varitek or Carlton Fisk.

Now, his future in Boston is uncertain. The team has committed to Christian Vazquez, another talented young backstop, due to his superior game management and receiving skills. Swihart was demoted in April despite a strong start at the plate, learned to play left field, and is now back with the big club in a part-time role. The problem is, his bat plays much better behind the plate, where he’s a clear offensive plus. In left, however, his hitting is average at best.

So therein lies the problem. Swihart is a great player without a clear role on the Red Sox, which limits his value to them at the present. He’s still very attractive to other teams, however, where he would represent a clear improvement at catcher. Ipso facto, Swihart is worth more to other teams than he is to the Sox, which is why they should move him now while his perceived value is still high, before a prolonged slump or injury potentially drags it down.

Swihart alone should net a pretty sweet return, and if Boston packages him with some prospects they could land another top-shelf starter to pair with Price (Sonny Gray, perhaps?). The Red Sox should trade Blake Swihart soon, however, because if they wait until late July it might be too late.

Christian Vazquez is Hugely Important to the Red Sox

Since Christian Vazquez returned from the disabled list, the Red Sox have gone from strength to strength.While no team is flawless, it is incredibly refreshing to finally see this team winning more games than it loses in any given stretch. And although the improvement cannot be solely attributed to the young catcher, he has been a major part of this team’s recent success, which is really fun to watch.

Christian Vazquez

Obviously, Christian Vazquez is renowned for his defensive abilities. The man from Puerto Rico is an elite pitch framer, which will help get more borderline calls for a pitching staff that can really use them. Moreover, Vazquez has a fantastic arm, and is capable of shutting down a running game entirely. He also calls a brilliant game with an assertive manner behind the plate. He isn’t afraid to bark at his pitchers, and frequently gets animated when demanding better mechanics or control from even established veterans. There is a fire to Christian Vazquez that fans truly appreciate. This guy wants to win just as much as anybody, which is huge for a Red Sox team seeking a new culture.

Vazquez established his defensive reputation in 2014, before missing last season due to Tommy John Surgery. However, we’re even beginning to see encouraging signs of life in his bat. Against the Yankees recently, Christian launched a huge home run over the Green Monster off the imposing Dellin Betances. It was just the second long ball of his big league career, and it gave the Red Sox a very important lead. We shouldn’t expect great things from Christian Vazquez at the plate, and this lineup can certainly carry such a strong defensive player, but improvement is definitely being made, and I believe he can be a serviceable hitter at this level. Vazquez knows the game really well, so that should definitely help him in the box.

Christian Vazquez, the Fourth Molina Brother

It’s well known that Vazquez shares a special friendship with the legendary Molina brothers, especially Cardinals stalwart Yadier. In fact, when watching Christian call a game and block pitches in the dirt with sneaky athleticism, the similarities to Yadier are pretty strong. That is a huge compliment, because Molina is one of the very best defensive catchers I have ever seen.

In recent seasons, Yadier has also improved massively as a hitter. He was a .252 career hitter through 2007, and averaged just 6 home runs and 38 RBI per season. But in the last nine years, Molina has hit .298 and topped out at 22 home runs and 80 RBI. As his career has progressed, Yadier has learned more about the game and naturally become a better hitter. In turn, the Cardinals have moved him up in the batting order, to the point where he is an integral cog of their offensive machine.

It would be unfair to expect such a trajectory from Christian Vazquez, but there is certainly cause for optimism about him becoming a complete force behind the plate for many years to come in Boston.

The Blake Swihart Conundrum

Right now, Vazquez seems to have the catching position locked down. His impact on team morale and performance has been exceptional, and the 25-year old looks set to join Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in forming the Red Sox’ new young core. Naturally, that doesn’t bode well for Blake Swihart, the other catching prospect Boston has at its disposal.

After struggling out of the gate, Swihart is currently in Pawtucket, working on his below average defense and playing some left field. In this age of advanced analytics, with increased emphasis on catcher defense, it’s difficult to ever see Swihart usurping Christian Vazquez behind the plate, while prized prospect Andrew Benintendi figures to challenge hard for the left field job in a few years.

Therefore, Swihart may suddenly be expendable. It would be difficult to give up on that bat, which has huge upside, but the Red Sox are playing really well at this point, and one more elite starting pitcher could make this a World Series caliber team. If Swihart is the trade chip that brings another ace to Boston, then perhaps Dave Dombrowski should bite the bullet. After all, he will be safe in the knowledge that, with Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox will have an elite catcher for the foreseeable future.

Red Sox Farm System Packed With Talent

From Salem to Pawtucket the Red Sox farm system is already seeing a lot of success from its minor league players, and it’s only the end of the first month of the season.

The High-A Class Salem Red Sox have two red hot players tearing up the Carolina LeagueRed Sox Farm System with no signs of slowing down. Yoan Moncada (Boston’s No.1 prospect at MLB.com) and Andrew Benintendi (Boston’s No.3 prospect at MLB.com) both have 13-game hitting streaks going that they protected Saturday April 23rd against Winston-Salem. That makes 14 out of 16 games in which Benintendi has hit safely. Going into the last week of April, Moncada is hitting .357 with six extra base hits, 14 runs, eight RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Benintendi is hitting .338 with six triples, eight doubles, and 11 RBIs. The way the Salem Red Sox are playing makes me wish I still lived in Virginia so I could watch them live!

Class A Greenville’s Anderson Espinoza, Boston’s No. 4 prospect at MLB.com, has a 1-1 record this season with a 2.45 ERA in four starts with 20 strikeouts. In 15 starts last season between Dominican Summer League, rookie Gulf Coast League, and Greenville, Espinoza commanded a 1.23 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. After being signed to a $1.8 million bonus by Boston during the 2014-15 international signing period, Espinoza has been closely watched by the Red Sox Nation as he continues his climb up to the majors.

Here in Pawtucket you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who is disappointed in the Class AAA Red Sox performance so far. The Class AAA team goes into the final week of April having won 8 of their last 10 games and continue their fight to stay in first place in the International League. Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart continue working on their hitting so they can rejoin the Red Sox in Boston. While Swihart has a little ways to go before his batting average improves, Castillo is hitting .303 with a .395 OBP in eight games.

Fans should have a lot to be excited about as the Red Sox farm system continues to develop its hot prospects.

Christian Vazquez: The Pitcher Whisperer

Hey Dave, are your pitchers struggling early on this season? Let me introduce you to Christian Vazquez, also known as The Pitcher Whisperer.

It’s no secret that the current Red Sox rotation struggled right out of the gate posting an American League worst 7.32 ERA thru the first 9 games of the season. Pitcher WhispererIt’s also no secret that last May the Sox had to rush Blake Swihart to the major leagues after losing both Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan to injury. And now, with a healthy Vazquez returning to form after recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox had no choice but to bring him back to help stabilize this disaster of a rotation.

Pitcher Whisperer Gets Results

In his first major league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, Vazquez showed Red Sox Nation why he’s highly regarded as one of the top catchers in the game today. Not only did he help guide Porcello to his 2nd win of the year (6.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 1 B and 8 K’s), but he also showed us his cannon of an arm by gunning down Tulowitski in the 1st inning with a nasty pick-off at 1st.

Up next, David Price who is known to get off to a slow start in the month of April (4.70 ERA in April since 2013) looked to have some good chemistry with Vazquez behind the plate. Price only allowed 2 ER in 7.0 IP, while striking out 9 Jays en-route to his 2nd win of the season.

Now I’m not saying Vazquez was 100% responsible for the back-to-back wins against the Jays, but it’s hard not to notice how the pitchers respond to his game calling ability. In my opinion, Porcello looked like a completely different pitcher confidence wise; he was throwing more of his sinker and attacking the strike zone. Nothing against Swihart by any means, but clearly pitchers seem to perform better with Vazquez as their battery-mate.

Back in the winter of 2015, during the Red Sox Winter Weekend, Joe Kelly had nothing but praise for the young defensive catcher, and even went as far to  compare him to his former teammate and catcher in St. Louis, Yadier Molina. “Mini Yadi. That’s his nickname. I call him that”, said Kelly.

Now obviously that’s a pretty big comparison for someone who has only been in the major leagues for less than 2 full seasons, but it’s not far-fetched. Christian is a special talent no doubt about that and as time goes on he will only become that much better. But in the mean time the Sox don’t need him to be “Yadier 2.0” they just need him to be Christian Vazquez, the Pitcher Whisperer for the Boston Red Sox.