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 Offensive Stronger Than Ever

I finally saw a spring training game in Florida this week. After spending the morning with Bill “Spaceman” Lee, I made it to Jet Blue Park to catch the Red Sox against the Minnesota Twins. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the starting line up. Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt, and Mookie Betts weren’t in the lineup. Those who were were on fire though. After seeing the Red Sox come from behind to beat the Twins it’s clear that we’ll see a Red Sox offensive stronger than ever this season.

One of the problems the Red Sox struggled with last season was their inability to rally.Red Sox Offensive Stronger They would put a few numbers on the board in the first few innings but the other team matched those numbers later on. Then the Red Sox would fall behind and rarely did they catch up. In some cases, they’d give up once the other team pulled ahead. This wasn’t just an issue last season, but it has been a perpetual problem since they won the 2013 World Series. Some say it’s because of John Farrell’s leadership. He’s not inspiriting the team like he should. Others say it’s the lack of drive. Eight and nine figure salaries can leave players with little to work for. But after pulling past the Twins on Saturday, it’s clear those days may be gone.

Sandoval is Part of What Makes the Red Sox Offensive Stronger

After an embarrassing setback last year, Pablo Sandoval has shown tremendous improvement. Although he failed to bunt to first, it was clear Sandoval’s has worked to run a respectable speed on the base paths. In fact, I was a little blown away by how fast he ran. Sandoval even had a RBI single in the fifth inning. Based on what I saw yesterday, Sandoval could become the source of future comebacks as he hustled, played hard, and made great contact with the ball. This upcoming season is an opportunity for Sandoval to redeem himself. It wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a team leader this season.

Spring Training Performance Hopefully a Sign of What’s to Come

Other Red Sox players showed tremendous improvement since last season too. It’s easy to say this after only a few spring training games. However, its definitely an improvement over what fans saw over the last few seasons. The Red Sox limped and stumbled into the post-season last year. Their actual post-season performance wasn’t anything to rave about. But if the Red Sox maintain the tight momentum, their offense, combined with a threatening pitching rotation, will make the team strong contenders for October.

Can Hanley Ramirez Play First Base?

Can Hanley Ramirez play first base? That will be a question on everyone’s mind as the Red Sox begin the 2016 season.

Hanley Ramirez’s offensive and defensive performance was less than stellar last season.Can Hanley Ramirez Play He fumbled in the outfield, and underperformed at the plate. Then there was the chatter about Ramirez being traded before this season started. Many in Red Sox Nation scratched their heads when manager John Farrell announced that Ramirez would be moving to first base. Ramirez at first? But as spring training came to a close this week, those same head-scratchers found themselves pleasantly surprised when Ramirez played well at his new position during the pre-season. So can Hanley Ramirez play first base?

We know Ramirez doesn’t belong in left field. After making several errors and fumbling the ball, it quickly became obvious that opposing baserunners weren’t going to be intimidated by Ramirez’s defensive abilities. As the season continued, fans like me went from being eager to see Ramirez make a a good catch to just hoping he would at least stop the ball from rolling towards the Green Monster. Needless to say, watching Ramirez play left field at times was like watching a toddler trying to catch a Nerf ball, except in Ramirez’s case it wasn’t funny.

When Ramirez started at first base this pre-season, few were confident in his infield abilities. But many were surprised to see Ramirez play first base at a decent level that some might dare build hope on. So can Hanley Ramirez play first base? As the pre-season continued, more and more people began to think yes. Even Ramirez himself seemed to be confident about his new home. “You have to do your work how it’s supposed to be done, just get in good habits and go from there,” Ramirez told ESPN before leaving with the team to play an exhibition game in Montreal. “If you get in that mindset, it’s going to be good.”

What we’re seeing here is a second-year player who knows he didn’t live up to expectations last year. Ramirez knows that much is at stake, especially as he continues to creep up in age. If Ramirez can continue to harness that confidence at first base, it will make it all the more easy for other newbies like Travis Shaw to effectively transition at third base too, as the two will have to work together to strengthen the Sox defense.

As optimistic as I am, I’ll have to wait until we’re a few months into the 2016 season to render a verdict about Ramirez’s skills at first base. Until then, let’s hope there’s no snow on the ground when the Red Sox kick off the season.

Red Sox Nation is Rooting for Travis Shaw

Spring training should never be taken too seriously, even for deeply passionate Red Sox fans. You’re likely tired of hearing that already, but it’s generally one of the great truisms of baseball. It’s only March, and players are more focused on alleviating the winter rust than producing exceptional results. Nevertheless, for one Red Sox player, a strong spring is Travis Shawsubstantiating the fine work he did last year, and forcing the front office into making a difficult decision.

Travis Shaw is nothing short of an aberration at this point. Last season, the imposing first baseman enjoyed 65 games with the Red Sox, hitting at a .270/.327/.487 clip with 13 home runs and 36 RBI. A rather unheralded prospect, he crept quietly onto the radar, before impressing many people with a robust introduction to the Major Leagues.

This spring, the 25-year old Shaw has continued his maturation. He is hitting .522 through eight exhibition games, with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and a 1.430 OPS. Obviously, we can’t extrapolate too much meaning from such an inconsequentially small sample size, but it is mildly notable that Shaw leads all players in batting average and on-base percentage so far this spring, forcing the front office to reconsider his future.

From time to time, Red Sox Nation falls in love with an underdog-type player and compels him to make the team and fulfill his potential. Shaw is the latest beneficiary of that phenomenon. In this regard, he reminds me a little of Kevin Youkilis, in terms of striving for progress by sheer force of work ethic. And, just like Youk, Shaw has added a second position to his repertoire in the selfless determination to help the Red Sox moving forward.

Travis has played plenty of third base this spring, with Hanley Ramirez clogging up his natural position. Similarly, plans are afoot to try Shaw in left field, adding another tool to his arsenal. At this point, it seems that Shaw will hit his way onto the roster, even if only as a Brock Holt-type utility guy initially. Yet, for John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski, it’s reassuring to know that, should the experiments with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval fail, they have an adequate replacement waiting in the wings.

We should never read too much into the statistics of spring training, but actions and attitudes speak volumes regardless of our location in the calendar. Right now, Travis Shaw is gaining attention for his impressive production, but perhaps more importantly, he’s gaining admirers for his altruistic outlook and dedicated approach. If only roster decisions were made on true merit, rather than pure economics.

Red Sox Spring Training Brings Uncertainty for Team

In the glory days of Theo Epstein, when the lineup was dominated by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, you knew what the Red Sox were, and their goal was always familiar. During that time, Boston was one of the few teams in professional sports that existed within a window of perennial contention. Red Sox Nation expected success, to a point where the regular season was almost an afterthought.

However, since 2010, the Red Sox have slowly lost that distinctive identity as their gripred sox spring training on constant postseason involvement has unraveled. This is the seventh consecutive season where uncertainty has clouded our judgment, the seventh straight spring where question marks reign. We simply don’t know what to expect from this franchise anymore.

That trend is prevalent throughout baseball in general. The increase in revenue sharing, coupled with more efficient defense and steroid testing, has flattened the field and created a vacuum of expectation. No team is guaranteed to qualify for the postseason, as the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners showed last year, while unheralded teams can triumph against all odds, as the Red Sox discovered in 2013. The additional wildcard in each league has led to teams aiming for 85 wins, rather than 90, as the quality of play has generally been diluted.

Moreover, baseball’s waning popularity when compared to the NFL has created a different atmosphere around the Red Sox. This team continues to inspire passion around the world, but the excitement has cooled somewhat from the manic 2000s, when the players could barely cough or sigh without opening the floodgates to reams of analysis. A gradual loss of intensity is definitely tangible, as the Red Sox attempt to rediscover their soul.

This year, they certainly have the ammunition to go far. David Price is the elite ace many people have yearned for, while Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts represent the next generation of Boston superstars. Yet, the uncertainty surrounding players like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, coupled with performance concerns over established veterans such as Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz, makes this a difficult team to read. Right now, we would all be forgiven for not totally being on board.

However, such pessimism should be reserved for another day. Pitchers and catchers reporting for Red Sox spring training is a joyous occasion, evoking connotations of eternal hope and optimism. So, let’s try to move on and enjoy the moment. For one day, let’s forget statistics and logistics, and just focus on the return of baseball, and the warm glow it provides.

Go Red Sox!

Where the Red Sox Stand as Truck Day Looms

Since capturing David Price in early December, the Red Sox have been awfully quiet. Admittedly, handing a 7-year, $217 million contract to a premium ace just weeks after acquiring an All-Star closer is cataclysmic in baseball terms, and Dave Dombrowski can be forgiven for taking some time to regain composure. However, this isn’t a complete roster by any measure, which means the Red Sox still have work to do as attention turns to Truck Day.

Red Sox

Without a doubt, adding Price and Craig Kimbrel made the Red Sox a much better team. In fact, Fangraphs projects Boston to have the best record in the American League this year. Yet, beneath the data, this is a team with several question marks and unsatisfying holes. Once again, the human reality casts doubt over the statistical romance, as fans are left yearning for more.

Quite frankly, when Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello are currently slated to take the ball in Games 2 and 3 of a prospective playoff series, it’s difficult to be overly optimistic about the Sox’ chances. Similarly we have no idea what to expect from Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez, though initial reports indicate they’re working into better physical shape. And as for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo? We saw exciting flashes last season, but whether they can take that next step into becoming regular stars remains to be seen.

Last year, the Red Sox won 78 games and finished in the AL East cellar, fifteen games behind the Blue Jays and eight adrift of a Wildcard berth. The introduction of Price and Kimbrel should help bridge those gaps, but there is no guarantee. The Yankees have also improved, theoretically, by trading for Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro, while the Orioles managed to retain a majority of their club, which looked to be falling apart at one stage. Again, we see that the Red Sox still have plenty of building to do.

So, what is left on the market for potential upgrades? Well, not a lot. The pool of adequate free agent starters has been reduced to Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, while the best remaining outfielders are Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson. Of course, a trade is still possible, with the usual names lurking on the rumor mill, but the Red Sox may not be willing to use any more prospects as trade chips following the earlier blockbuster.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are now in their best position since October 2013. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t say much considering how bad the intervening years were. Boston can certainly rely on Price and Kimbrel to produce, and Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia are primed for big seasons, but a string of questions will need to be answered in the affirmative for Boston to truly rebound.

There’s still just over two months until Opening Day, so Dave Dombrowski has time to continue dealing. He inherited a core and has begun to build diligently around it. Perhaps those efforts just need to be accelerated, if the dreams of Red Sox Nation are to be realized soon.