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.

Red Sox in No Hurry to Rush Blake Swihart

blake swihart

Despite projected starting catcher Christian Vazquez beginning the season on the 60-day disabled list, the Red Sox are in no hurry to rush Blake Swihart’s progression to the majors.

Swihart, who will turn 23-years-old in April, is considered the top catching prospect in baseball, and is currently listed as the Red Sox number one prospect Blake Swihartaccording to SoxProspects.com. In 13 Grapefruit League games, Swihart is hitting .333/.375/.533 with a double, triple, home run and eight runs batted in.

“The view is that with a young player like Blake or other guys, we prefer to get them on a little bit of a roll at the minor league level before they come to us,” Farrell shared with NESN.com on Monday morning. “There’s also the need to continue to refine the receiving side of things. He’s gotten quite a bit of opportunity here in camp. He’s shown well I think. But just in the big picture, I think we can probably all benefit by playing every day and continuing to work on the developmental areas that are there.”

The Red Sox will presumably look to Ryan Hanigan, whom they acquired from the San Diego Padres in December in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

So far this spring, Hanigan is hitting .263/.353./.341 in nine games. For his career, the 30-year old veteran has hit .256/.353/.341 with 25 home runs and 172 runs batted in over eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox didn’t waste much time adding another catcher to bolster their depth at the position, acquiring catcher Sandy Leon from the Washington Nationals on Monday in exchange for cash considerations.

“This is a guy who, given Christian’s situation, we felt like we needed to build some depth at the position—a guy that’s available because of being out of options and someone we’ve always graded fairly high on the receiving end of the position,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told ESPN Boston.

Red Sox Hot Stove: Jon Lester Gets Offer, Cole Hamels in Play?

Jon LesterAccording to a report from Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com, Jon Lester has received a contract offer from the Boston Red Sox. There are no details of the offer at this time, but it has also been noted that many believe that Lester will be returning to Boston, according to CSNNE.com. For instance, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago said on Tuesday night:

“I think he’s going back to the Red Sox. That’s where I’d put my money. That’s kind of the gut feeling, just talking to people around the industry coming back from the GM meetings.”

The 30-year-old is one of the best commodities out there on the free-agent market and is a viable starting pitcher at the top of any rotation in baseball. Sure, he isn’t Clayton Kershaw (during the regular season), but he has proven himself time and time again during the postseason as well as proving himself a horse during the regular season.

In other pitching news, the Philadelphia Phillies have begun background checks on multiple Red Sox prospects, including Mookie Betts, Matt Barnes, Christian Vazquez and even Blake Swihart. This could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Red Sox prospects the Phillies are interested in a trade for Cole Hamels.

The veteran has been a steady workhorse for the Phillies and has a long-term deal that the Red Sox would need to take on in a deal. Plus, in order for the deal to go through the Red Sox would need to pick up an option worth $20 million in 2019 before the trade would be completed.

Five Red Sox Headlines to Keep an Eye on in the Second Half

Red Sox headlines

The Boston Red Sox find themselves in a much different spot than they did a season ago. In 2013, the Red Sox entered the All-Star break with a 57–36 record. This season, the team finished the first half in last place in the AL East with a 43-52 record. If the team is to make a second straight playoff appearance, a lot of things will need to happen during the second half. Here are the five Red Sox headlines to keep an eye on during the second half of the season.

1. Jon Lester’s Contract Situation 

Lester reportedly told the Red Sox that he wants to wait until after the 2014 season to discuss his contract situation, but talks have resumed in recent weeks. Lester told the Boston Herald that he was, “thrown off” by the Red Sox’ repeated attempts at a contract extension.

Lester has been, by far, the most consistent pitcher for the Red Sox for the last couple of seasons. Can the Red Sox and Lester come to an agreement before the left-hander hits free agency? It is hard to imagine him leaving Boston, but if Lester hits free agency, I expect teams such as the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers to offer him more money than the Red Sox reportedly have.

2. How Will Christian Vasquez Perform in the Second Half?

The Red Sox thought Vasquez was ready for the majors and the team released A.J. Pierzynski. The 23-year-old is hitting .455 with five RBI’s in the three games he has played since his promotion to the big leagues. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Vasquez gets in the second half. 

3. Can Clay Buchholz Get Back on Track? 

For much of the season, Buchholz has had his struggles on the mound, but he finished the first-half with an outstanding performance against the Houston Astros. Buchholz threw a complete-game, 12-strikeout shutout against the Astros that Sunday.

No one is expecting Buchholz to pitch shutouts every fifth day, but if can return to his All-Star form, that will further deepen the Sox rotation. 

4. Will Xander Bogaerts’ Bat Wake Up?

After an incredible May, Bogaerts has played like a 21-year-old in June and July. He has a batting average below .140 the last two months and Bogaerts has not adjusted well to breaking pitches. Will the rookie make the necessary adjustments or will the Red Sox decide to send him down to Pawtucket?

5. Can the Red Sox Make a Magical Run to the Postseason? 

With 43 wins at the All-Star break, it is hard to picture the Red Sox in the postseason at this point, but stranger things have happened. With the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles at 52 wins, the Red Sox have as good of a shot of winning the AL East as they do of winning the Wild Card at this point. 90-91 wins is probably good enough to win the division, but the Red Sox margin for error is very slim. If the team expects to make a playoff run, the Red Sox can’t lose any more than 20 games for the rest of the season. 

The Red Sox Weren’t Wrong Signing A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski

Yesterday A.J. Pierzynski’s brief tenure with the Boston Red Sox came to an abrupt end. Red Sox fans collectively rejoiced Wednesday morning when they received word Pierzynski had been designated for assignment.

The surprising, yet deserving demotion, had two massive benefits. One, “clubhouse cancer” A.J. Pierzynski was finally off the struggling Boston squad. Secondly, and almost as important, Christian Vazquez, the young and talented catching prospect, would get his first taste of big-league action.

Love or hate him —and you probably aren’t his biggest fan — the Red Sox made the right move signing the veteran backstop in the offseason. You may be bewildered by that last statement seeing how it miserably concluded, but let’s think logically and unbiased towards this.

The Red Sox needed a one-year bridge for Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Re-signing “beloved” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a multi-year deal would block the two touted prospects for years. It’s also not as if “Salty” was great in his Red Sox career. He had one very good season, which, honestly, was highly BABIP-driven.

Other options on the market included Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz. McCann signed a five-year, $85 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees in the winter. All that money invested has produced a paltry .230 batting average and .660 OPS. Ruiz, on the other hand has been decent with the Philadelphia Phillies this season. However, he, too, was seeking a long-term deal. If Boston signed him, Vazquez and Swihart would be blocked.

Another aspect that factored in to the decision was finding a platoon for David Ross. Given Ross is a right-handed hitter, Ben Cherington pursued a left-handed complement.

Dioner Navarro, some may argue, could have been the guy. The switch-hitter ended up signing with the division-adversary Toronto Blue Jays. Be cognizant, however, Navarro has churned just a .656 OPS off right-handed pitching in his career. It’s a substantial difference from his career .752 OPS against southpaws. So, a switch-hitter who doesn’t hit well against righties, would defeat the entire purpose of a platoon with Ross. He didn’t have the track record of Pierzynski, either. In 292 plate appearances this season, Navarro has compiled a .663 OPS.

Boston faced a unique situation regarding who’d be their catcher heading into the year, and Pierzynski was the only one to fit the criteria. He’s a left-handed bat, with a solid track record, and didn’t desire a long-term deal. They could have gone with Vazquez early, but Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have shown it’s not always easy relying on rookies to succeed. Despite how it worked out, the Pierzynski-signing was sensible.