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.

Interview With Doug Wilson (Pudge, pt.2)

In Part 2 of Pudge, Carlton Fisk’s biography by Doug Wilson, we look at his research on the famed Red Sox catcher. By day, Wilson is an ophthalmologist, otherwise known as a eye doctor. By night, however, he’s a baseball writer. Wilson always had aspirations to write about baseball. He played in college, but said that “My GPA was higher than my batting average,” which led him to continue to medical school instead. After his two boysDoug Wilson went off to college, Wilson finally found the time to pursue his passion. He’s already published titles like The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych in 2013, and Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson in 2014.

Wilson said that his biggest challenge in writing Pudge was presenting both sides of the many conflicts Fisk endured in his career. Wilson didn’t want to make apologies for his conflicts, but wanted to present them from Fisk’s point of view. Fisk himself chose not to be interviewed for the biography because, as Wilson pointed out, he’s a private person and doesn’t particularly like the spotlight, which he said wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When he was writing Brooks, Wilson grew to strongly admire Brooks Robinson, making it hard for Wilson to write objectively about him. Not interview Fisk helped him write a more objective biography about Fisk.

Wilson discussed how his research led him to view Fisk as a representation of New England. Fisk was born in Vermont, raised in New Hampshire, and grew up wanting to play for the Red Sox. According to Wilson, Fisk was the first to accomplish what he calls the New England Trifecta that every native wanted to accomplish. The first included Fisk making a basket on the parquet floor in the Boston Garden. The second was hitting a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway. The third was when Fisk punched Thurmond Munson,a New York Yankee, during a brawl in 1973. “Fisk’s pride as a New Englander was what endeared him to Boston.”

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Describes Duo of Fisk and “Spaceman”

As much as he loved Boston, Wilson talked about how it wasn’t enough for Fisk to overcome his conflicts with Red Sox executives. In 1980, Fisk asked that his 1981 contract reflect his performance, which was more money than general manager Haywood Sullivan wanted to spend. Citing one of his injuries, Sullivan quipped that “Fisk’s contract bothers him more than his arm” and mailed him a contract after the 1980 resigning deadline, which made Fisk a free agent. This disrespectful gesture led Fisk to sign with the Chicago White Sox for the 1981 season, where he finished his career in 1993. “Questioning [Fisk’s] integrity was absolutely the WRONG thing to do, and he held on those things.”

The best part of the interview was when Wilson discussed the rift between Fisk and pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Lee hated it when Fisk walked to the mound to talk after each pitch because it slowed the game down. This gesture led Fisk’s teammates to nickname him “The Human Rain Delay.” Red Sox 2nd baseman Rico Petrocelli, who played with Fisk in the 1970s, told Wilson that he and the other teammates got a kick out of watching Fisk walk up to the mound where “Spaceman” would grunt in frustration, turn his back to Fisk, and walk off the mound while everyone on the Red Sox bench laughed.

Look for Pudge by Doug Wilson in your local bookstores!

Sly Goes One on One with Christian Vazquez

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Having been a Sox fan for a long time, and made a living one way or another through the Boston Red Sox, I’ve gotten to know a lot of players through the years. In order to succeed in the Boston market, you have to have grit, be hard-nosed, tough and have a great work ethic. Those who have succeeded in Boston had that make-up. Catchers, Boston’s had some great ones—Fisk and Varitek come to mind. There were other good backstops in the last 30 years—Rich Gedman, Tony Pena, even Mike MacFarlan for a couple seasons, but we haven’t seen a good home grown catcher in a while. Until now. The baseball God’s have given us Christian Vazquez.

I’ve watched Vazquez play in Pawtucket this season and caught up with him right before he was promoted to the big club. I spoke to him after Matt Barnes’ second strong outing, and while most reporters were talking about the pitching performance, I spoke to Christian about how he was calling the game and what he felt he was doing right and wrong.

Christian told me he spends a lot of time pouring over opposing hitters stats, and sometimes calling a pitch on his gut feeling or a hunch that this guy can’t hit it inside. Vazquez said he is given a lot of freedom in how to control the game and said, “I like to keep the ball down and get my guys off the mound as quick as possible, inning by inning.” During the June 7th game, he gunned a guy down at first and held the team to no stolen bases. I watched this kid, like a sniper with precision, always have one eye on the base runner and not afraid to throw down to first after any pitch. After the game, when I asked Vazquez if his actions were instinct or instructions from the dugout, he replied,”It’s all me. Skipper gives me the green light to throw down if I think it’s right.”

When I asked him about his aggressive approach he said he worked on it over the winter in Jupiter, FL with Yadier and Bengie Molina. The Molina’s also helped him with his much improved defense and ability to block pass balls. In that June 7th game, I watched closely as not a single ball made it by his glove. The Molina’s stressed to Vazquez that you don’t get to be an All-Star catcher by allowing pass balls. “They cost runs and they cost games,” said Vazquez, adding, “I’ll do anything to get my pitcher the W.”

Christian Vazquez is just one of the many exciting new players coming through this system. This guy is my type of ball player: hard, tough and confident. He appears to be a born leader as well.

I think the next Varitek just showed up in the Red Sox locker room.

Rumor Has It

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Who wants a free-agent-to-be catcher that doesn’t hit or field well?
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

From tuning into all of the games and watching Jarrod Saltalamacchia at bat so far this season, I have only been impressed. Only maybe I don’t know the game as good as I should, or maybe I am blind to see the writing between the lines when it comes to what to look for in a star player. In any case, rumor has it, Jarrod is not playing the way the organization would like him to.  This leaves room for debate on whether he should be traded after the 2013 season or not. After all, he is a free agent when the 2013 season ends and his performance at present isn’t cutting it with the 4.5 million dollar contract he has signed on to.  Ben Cherington, before the offseason even began, emphasized (rumor has it) he wanted Salty out, but who would replace him? Ryan Lavarnway? The 25 year old up and coming star athlete has a lot to improve, but with a .172 BA who has thrown out 13% of runners on base in his 63 MLB game career, in the past two years, is a candidate for the Boston Red Sox in 2014.  There is also David Ross, but his age may catch up with his performance. At 36 how much more can Ross put out behind the plate?  Although he has an .818 OPS and has thrown out 30% of runners on base in the past nine games, would he be a good candidate to replace Salty full time? Again, this is just a rumor as of right now, but one worth investigating.

It would be a hard hit for me if Salty left the Boston Red Sox.  I know his stats prove otherwise – in twenty games he is hitting .232 with three homeruns, eight RBI’s, and twenty seven strike outs, in only sixty-nine at bats. As a catcher, defensively, he struggles too, with or without the umpire being in the way. So far he has allowed twelve stolen bases without throwing out any of the runners.

The game was a grave disappointment Saturday night as the Sox took on the Texas Rangers, and Salty was of no assistance offensively.  In his three at-bats he fanned twice, once leaving two men on base, and hit a double line drive to right field.

The question stands, is this truly a rumor or will we be seeing a new starting catcher as 2014 draws near?