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 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.

The Red Sox Catcher Dilemma

The Red Sox have some decisions to make in the off-season. For starters, they have to decide who they want to bring on board as an ace, if they want to bring on another ace at all. They have to decide where they want to look for bullpen help as well. One decision that has been flying under the radar a bit is—who will be their everyday catcher? Blake Swihart has performed well in 2015, but the Red Sox went into the 2015 season assuming Christian Vazquez would be their regular catcher with Sandy Leon as the backup.

Of course, Vazquez was lost for the season when he had Tommy John surgery back inRed Sox catcher April, which opened the door for Blake Swihart to get the majority of the reps at catcher this season. Swihart performed pretty well at the plate, but Red Sox pitchers had a 4.51 ERA when throwing to Swihart this season, while pitchers had a 3.71 ERA throwing to Vazquez last season in limited action at the end of last season. That takes into account the fact that the Red Sox had already traded away Lon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.

Blake Swihart played well offensively, hitting .274 with 5 home runs in 84 games, so I would say he has a slight edge on Vazquez in that respect. Christian Vazquez has a .240 average in 55 career games and only 1 home run so far, but Vazquez has the edge defensively over Swihart.

So, who will start in 2016? It’s hard to say, but I would give the edge to the defensive-minded catcher if it came down to one of them, which is Vazquez. However, I think the best case scenario would be to have them split time. If it were me, I would start Vazquez for the majority of the games, but put Swihart in when we need a little pop in the lineup.

Another distinct possibility is one of them, most likely Swihart, gets traded to bring in an ace or bullpen help. I think Swihart will get the short straw in a possible deal because if it comes down to it, the Red Sox will choose the better defensive catcher in Vazquez, and have Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon as back ups. I could be wrong, but time will tell.

 

Reviewing 2014 Red Sox Rookie Position Players

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After an abysmal 2014 season, the Boston Red Sox look to turn things around in 2015. Five rookie position players saw a good chunk of playing time last year for Boston, which is why it is worth taking a look to see why underdogs can thrive as well.
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The two big time prospects headed into the season were Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., neither of whom produced nearly was well as expected. While Bogaerts hit well at times and played adequate defense at shortstop, his bat went missing in action during the summer months as he hit just .157 in 248 at-bats from June through August.

Jackie Bradley Jr. on the other hand, was excellent defensively but failed to pull his weight at red sox rookiethe plate, posting the lowest OPS among all qualifying outfielders in Major League Baseball. Defensively though, he was another story—but Boston still went ahead and signed Cuban defector Rusney Castillo to fill the void in center field.

Younger players who the Red Sox were not expecting as much from ended up being the ones who gave them more production.
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Very few people would have thought Christian Vazquez would be the Red Sox starting catcher headed into the 2015 season, but that is the case. He hit .254 with a .312 OBP off of righties last season while gunning down 52% of the runners who tried to steal off of him in 54 games—not bad for a rookie catcher.

Drilling his way into the lineup by playing every single position except for the batteries, Brock Holt etched his way into the big league picture by doing everything that was asked of him and then some. Although he hit .281 with four homers and 12 stolen bases in 106 games last year, he would not be coming into the 2015 season projected to be the utility man if it weren’t for his versatility.
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Who could forget about Mookie Betts? Switching from second base to the outfield, the top prospect was originally not expected to make his big league debut until 2015, but his consistent bat earned him playing time for Boston. Showing off power, speed and plate discipline, he has the right stuff which is why he is projected to post the highest WAR on the team this year.

Middlebrooks Gone, Red Sox Get Ryan Hanigan

ryan hanigan

In need of a backup catcher, the Boston Red Sox were able to kill two birds with one stone.
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First of all, Will Middlebrooks posed a bit of a problem for the club. He hit .254 in his first 169 big league games and smacked 32 home runs, making it clear that he was going to be one of the best power hitting third baseman in the game.

In 63 games in 2014, Middlebrooks hit just two home runs in 63 games with a dismal .256 OBP, putting his future with the Red Sox organization in peril.

Also, the Red Sox needed a backup catcher and were able to get one by trading Will Middlebrooks to the San Diego Padres. In return, the Boston Red Sox will obtain catcher Ryan Hanigan who the Padres will get in the Wil Myers deal when it is all said and done.ryan hanigan

Hanigan, who never has and most likely never will play in a big league game for the San Diego Padres, spent 2014 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and hit .218 with a .318 OBP in 84 games and clipped five home runs. It was a down year for Hanigan and the Red Sox will bank on him being better than he was this past season.
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Plate discipline has always been a big part of Hanigan’s game. He has walked 220 times and struck out on just 198 in his career, showing his knowledge of the strike zone. As a result, Hanigan puts a lot of balls in play and is good for a few sacrifice hits a season.

Defensively, Hanigan has thrown out 38% of attempted base stealers in his career and lead the league gunning down 48% in 2012 and 45% in 2013.
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Typically, Hanigan serves his team as a platoon catcher, playing more than a backup but less than a starter. Expect Red Sox rookie catcher Christian Vazquez to catch at around 60%-67% of the time next season while Hanigan will see around 33%-40% of the reps if all goes well.

Now that the Red Sox have Hanigan who is signed for the next two years, trading Blake Swihart is a definite possibility. Although many people may not want to trade him, the return would be rather large and could set the Red Sox up for a championship next season.
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The 34-year-old Hanigan is a graduate of Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts. Welcome back Ryan Hanigan, welcome back.

Defense First For Red Sox Catcher Christian Vazquez

vazquezIn the field in baseball, defense is important however, it is not as important as hitting. Hitting is what gives a player pride; it’s what makes David Ortiz so great and makes the difference between a lifelong Minor League player and a lifelong Major League player.

Fielding is important, depending on the position. As a catcher,for example, defense is quite important and sometimes it can even outweigh a player’s dismal performance at the plate. Gunning down attempted base stealers, calling the game, and catching every single ball thrown are responsibilities of a catcher. This job is important and can effect the outcome of a ball game.
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For Boston Red Sox rookie catcher Christian Vazquez defense is his specialty. His bat lags behind as he is slashing .225/.287/.275 while posting a dismal .561 OPS in 102 at-bats. Not only this, but Vazquez is two for his last 17 and is on pace to finish this season hitting below the Mendoza Line (.200).

Behind the dish it is a completely different story for Vazquez—gunning down nine of 20 would-be base stealers good for 45% caught stealing. As a game caller, he is advanced for a 24-year-old and is one of the top defensive catchers in the game.
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No, he is not the fourth Molina brother, but he works out with them in the winter in Puerto Rico and is just as good defensively.

Next year, it is assumed Vazquez will be seeing the lion’s share of playing time at catcher for the Red Sox — even if it is in a platoon. Boston is willing to take the good with the bad and will let Vazquez continue to catch for them despite his obvious flaws. To meet the standards of being the starting catcher, Vazquez will need to keep playing his tremendous defense and get his OBP up to a number which starts with a three.

No, he is not the next Ivan Rodriguez, but Vazquez could be just as good defensively while he lacks the bat of the future Hall of Famer.
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With the anticipated emergence of Blake Swihart, Vazquez will have competition in the future. Still though, Vazquez is here to stay and may find himself in a platoon with Swihart by around the halfway mark next year. All would need to go well for Swihart for that to occur while Vazquez must keep his average above the Mendoza Line.

As always, defense comes first for Christian Vazquez. It is the reason why he is the starting catcher of a big league club and it is the reason why he is getting paid. No matter what else happens next year, Boston will be sound at catcher as long as Christian Vazquez stays healthy.