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.

Blake Swihart’s Showing Potential

After hitting his first Major League career home run last Thursday night in a loss to the Minnesota Twins, the future is looking bright for Blake Swihart.  Swihart was selected by the Sox in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and now he is beginning to show what he could bring to the franchise.  He is a 23-year-old switch-hitting catcher who is more known for his good defense behind the plate, but if he can add some solid offense to his game, there should be nothing stopping him from becoming the future every day catcher for the Sox.

The Red Sox have been looking for someone to fill the catcher spot since the retirement ofblake swihart Boston great Jason Varitek.  Since Varitek retired in 2011, the Sox have experimented with a couple of catchers.  They even won a World Series in 2013 with two catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross. But something tells me that John Farrell and the Red Sox front office would love to find a young catcher that they can lock up for years to come.

Swihart was called up from the Minors on May 2.  During his short time in the Majors, he is hitting .218 with three doubles, eight RBI, and the one home run.  Not all-star numbers or even Rookie Of The Year numbers, but they are solid stats for a catcher who is here more for his defense.  Also, with his one home run, Swihart is the youngest Red Sox catcher since Rich Gedman in 1982 to hit a home run, proving that he has a long career ahead of him.

His defensive numbers are very impressive though.  While on the Red Sox, Swihart is error-less and has caught five runners trying to steal.  In the minors, he has a .989 fielding percentage, and only recorded 26 errors in 279 games.  These are numbers that show the true potential that he brings to the table.

In a league that does not have many superstar catchers, every team is always looking for one who can be reliable defensively behind the plate, and also not be a liability as a hitter. The Red Sox and their fans know that Swihart is already reliable behind the plate, and after finally seeing the type of hitter he could become, the Sox are hoping they don’t have to look any further to find their franchise catcher.

PawSox Catchers Have Diverse Roles

PawSox catchers

Before Ryan Hanigan fractured a knuckle and went on the disabled list, the Pawtucket Red Sox had four catchers, all of whom served the team in different manners.
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Now that Blake Swihart is out of the picture and up with the big league club it is a little different, but no two PawSox catchers are alike.pawsox catchers

Of course Swihart was the big-time prospect and the one fans knew most by name, but he was not the only one getting his work in for the PawSox.
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“All four of us do our catching stuff on a daily basis,” veteran catcher Matt Spring said before Swihart’s call-up. “You know, catching bullpen sessions and all that. Whenever my role changes back to that, I’ll be ready.”

The three catchers down in AAA right now are Matt Spring, Humberto Quintero and Luke Montz. Of the three, Quintero has the most big league experience and is the only one of the three that has caught a game this season.

On paper, Quintero is the first guy Boston would call up because he has so much big league experience. Montz on the other hand has a little bit of big league time and an injury prematurely ended his fight for a roster spot with the Oakland A’s last spring training. Now Montz is in a reserve role which consists of playing first base and left field.
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People might see 30-year-old Matt Spring as a career Minor League catcher, but as of late he has taken over the PawSox starting first base role. He has a hit in all but one of his ten games this year.

For the first time in his career, Spring has a chance to really make a name for himself as a regular contributor to the PawSox lineup.
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“I think that’s what all of us want to do,” Spring said. “Go out there and do whatever we can do to help and if it’s going out there and playing first base right now, I’ll fill that role whenever I can— whatever opportunity I have to get my name in the lineup.”

Matt Spring has Big League Ambitions

Matt Spring

Minor Leaguers come and go, but it will take a lot more than age for PawSox catcher Matt Spring to give up on the game he loves.

At 30 years old, he enters his his 12th pro season at the highest level to date—AAA.

Spring has just 17 career games in AAA to his credit at this point in his career, but he looks tomatt spring be in the mix of PawSox catchers this year that includes big league veteran Humberto Quintero and top prospect Blake Swihart.
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As a result, he starts the year on the seven-day Disabled List and while he may not be concussed, it is a way for the PawSox to keep extra depth behind the plate.

It may be tough for him to find playing time at times given the depth the team has behind the backstop, but if anything happens at the big league level, he is sure to see more reps behind the plate in Pawtucket.
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“Whenever you can get your bat in the lineup, that’s what you want to do,” Spring told Yawkey Way Report at PawSox media day. “So whether it be first base, left field or whatever, I’ll take at-bats when they come.”

“That’s the biggest thing, taking advantage of those opportunities when you do get to play. Just lead by example for some of these younger guys who are obviously trying to do the same thing as me—trying to make it to the big leagues,” he added.

In addition to being a catcher with some pop (eight home runs in 43 games last year), Spring is a guy who the organization values as a mentor, someone who can help up-and-coming players.
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Headed into the year, Spring received an invite to big league Spring Training and capitalized on the opportunity by going six-for-14 with three doubles and a homer in 13 games.

“It’s a good opportunity to go to Major League camp and I just had to take advantage of it,” he said. “My mentality may have been a little bit different, making sure I came in ready to go and everything like that.”

Each and every year, Spring looks to get better and he took a little bit different of an approach this off season.

“I ate a lot healthier,” he said. “I tried to change my approach—instead of just getting strong I leaned out.”

Power has always been a huge part of his game, but he is not really concerned about hitting home runs, although they do come with being a strong catcher.

As a catcher, Spring plays one of the few positions where defense has more worth than offense and although this is not his first time around the rodeo, he still works to improve defensively.

“That’s the biggest thing—especially coming into Spring Training,” said Spring. “Showing the team what to do defensively—you know it’s a defensive first position so being ready to go on the defensive side is important.”
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Many guys in the high minors get a cup of coffee in the majors, not contributing much of anything at the top level before they are sent down to never make it back up again. Spring has yet to have the opportunity to play Major League Baseball yet, but surely even one game would mean a lot to him.

“Obviously you want to be doing whatever you can to make it to the big leagues and you know if playing left field or first base is what will get me there, then that’s great.”

Professionally, Spring has over 500 games catching and 33 games at first base—he occasionally takes reps at DH but would play anywhere if it came down it.

A player and mentor, perhaps there is the chance fans will see Coach Spring at some point, although he still has plenty of years ahead of him playing the game.
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“You never know, I mean obviously that’s something I have to talk about with my family,” he said. “It’s something I’ve thought about and something that’s definitely my reputation as a clubhouse guy and my success off the field would definitely help me get a job.”

Dan Butler Thriving For The Boston Red Sox

dan butlerAfter three hit-less games (0-for-11) in the big leagues, last Wednesday Boston Red Sox catcher Dan Butler came through with his bat and made a huge impact by doing so.

Failing to reach in his first at-bat, Butler smacked a double off the Green Monster—his first Major League hit. At that point, everything Butler ever did to make it this far final paid off. He was not done though, collecting another pair of hits, one of which was a double.
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On the year his slash line stands at .200/.250/.333 through four full games, but that should go up as he got his first hit out of the way which is always the hardest. After getting his first, he immediately got his second and third which suggests he is comfortable at the plate now at the big league level. Of course, he will need to support this theory with a few more strong performances.

Defense has never been, nor will it ever be, an issue for Butler—he catches like a pro. A great receiver behind the plate who calls a good game, Butler owns a decent throwing arm (27% caught stealing in AAA) making him a complete defensive player.
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Odds are, he will not be playing every day, but Dan Butler is achieving his ultimate goal—contributing to the Boston Red Sox. As the Red Sox are eliminated from playoff contention, expect Butler to catch more than usual since this season is now nothing but practice for 2015. With a good impression good things will happen to the 27-year-old catcher.

Right now, Dan Butler has a chance to make the case to earn the Boston Red Sox job as backup catcher in 2015. Sure it’s a bit of a stretch, but so was making it to the top as an undrafted free agent.
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Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Butler.

Christian Vazquez is Better Offensively Than This!

christian vazquez

Christian Vazquez is a touted-prospect for one reason, and one reason alone; his skills behind the dish. According to every defensive metric, whether it be pitch framing, defensive runs saved, or caught stealing percentage, the 24-year-old catcher is rendered elite. Oh, and did I mention he’s just a rookie?

Even though he’s already drawn comparison to guys like Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy from a defensive perspective, he still hasn’t been of great value since his call-up due to his ineffectiveness with the stick. In 147 plate appearances this season, Vazquez has only managed to churn a weak .234/.292/.289 slash line.

Now, I detest the notion that what Vazquez’s has done offensively this year will be more or less what we see the rest of his career. Looking at his minor-league numbers over the past few years, we can evidently see this isn’t the offensive player at his best.

*(Note: Minor-league stats are only shown when Vazquez compiled 250+ plate appearances in a specific level of the minors)

2011 (444 PA) with Single-A Greenville: .283 AVG, .358 OBP, .505 SLG, .316 BABIP and 133 wRC+

2012 (342 PA) with Single-A Salem: .266 AVG, .360 OBP, .396 SLG, .326 BABIP, 114 wRC+

2013 (399 PA) with Double-A Portland: .289 AVG, .376 OBP, .395 SLG, .316 BABIP, 119 wRC+

2014 (270 PA) with Triple-A Pawtucket: .276 AVG, .336 OBP, .385 SLG, .340 BABIP, and 98 wRC+

Those numbers aren’t eye-popping by any stretch of the imagination, but they sure are above-average. They also showcase his tendency to walk at a high-rate, which is indicated by his stupendous on-base percentage totals.

Another reason I’m optimistic about his offensive potential is his low .270 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). That mark is .23 percentage points below league-average for catchers this season, and should deviate towards league-average, eventually, but there’s no guarantee.

Vazquez has the potential to be a solid commodity from an offensive standpoint as well as a defensive standpoint. With the latter, he’s already well above-average, but the former will take some honing. Whether that is next year or a few years from now, I’m upbeat about his offensive aptitude.