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July 10, 2014

The Call-Up

Christian Vazquez

by Al Skorupa and Ben Carsley


The Situation: A.J. Pierzynski and the Red Sox seemed like a nice fit over the winter, but neither his season nor Boston's season went as planned. Pierzynski’s free-swinging ways clashed with the selective lineup Ben Cherington assembled, and his glove was a weakness. As a result, the team grew increasing frustrated with the veteran backstop, leading to whispers that the Sox were contemplating jettisoning him as early as April. With Boston's catching prospects having fine seasons in the minors, the Sox finally pulled the plug on Pierzynski on Wednesday, calling up 23-year-old catcher Christian Vazquez. Vazquez’s breakout year at Pawtucket has tempted Boston to make this move for some time, and the hope is that he can inject a new energy with his impact defensive skills.

Background: The Red Sox took Vazquez in the ninth round of the 2008 draft out of Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and signed him for an $80,000 bonus. Even with a top-10-round grade, Vazquez was seen as a project on both sides of the ball, and his short, stout frame gave rise to concerns about his body, though those liabilities can sometimes turn into assets behind the plate in terms of durability. At the plate, Vazquez’s small frame isn't conducive to power. His bat speed isn’t a strength either, and swing-and-miss has been a big issue. Vazquez has always been able to throw, but the rest of his defensive game lagged behind. Concerns about his glove were such that in the low minors he saw time at third base, with a smattering of appearances at first and second. Over the last couple years, however, he's addressed many of these doubts.

The Scouting: Any discussion of Vazquez begins with his arm. I asserted in April that Vazquez was "the best-throwing catcher in professional baseball right now, and it's not particularly close." Many scouts have described him to me as having one of the best arms they've ever seen, and have eagerly anticipated the crazy pop times Vazquez would show them in Pawtucket.

However, while Vazquez has a plus arm, he lacks top-of-the-scale raw arm strength, and perhaps there's a lesson in that for young catchers. Vazquez nails baserunners as much with his feet as with his arm. Much like fellow cannon-armed Puerto Rican catcher Ivan Rodriguez (a player Vazquez reportedly idolizes), Vazquez has lightning-quick feet behind the plate. He gets out of the crouch in the blink of an eye, and the ball often arrives 5-10 feet before would-be basestealers. His pop times are routinely at or below 1.90, and I've had him as high as 1.74. (I've also clocked him at 1.78 twice, and stories abound of similar readings.)

Vazquez’s snap throws to first and third are as much fun to watch as his throwdowns. Baserunners would be well advised to keep their heads up and not wander too far, even with their secondary lead. Vazquez is a weapon behind the plate who completely shuts down the opposing team's running game. With a wave of his arm he turns the basepaths to quicksand.

While the arm is an "8," the rest of Vazquez’s defensive game has emerged as plus over the last year. His quick feet didn't always translate to good blocking and lateral movement. The tools and athleticism have always been there, but for whatever reason he exhibited some sloppy actions while in the lower levels that he's finally fixed. His receiving is marked by soft hands and strong framing skills. There was some sentiment (as there was with Pudge) that Vazquez would at times sandbag his pitcher by calling for too many fastballs with runners on base. Pitchers have indeed been happier throwing to him this year, and those problems appears to be behind him. None of this is unusual to see in a catcher honing his craft in the minors.

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9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

oldbopper

The motion has been called. Multiple choice: Who is behind the plate on Opening Day in 2015 for the Red Sox. A/ Christian Vasquez B/ Blake Swihart C/ David Ross D/ Somebody else?
As a retired fanatical Red Sox fan, the east coast junket to Greenville and Salem is a trip I love. The Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway in spring are awe inspiring and side trips to the games are the cherry on top. I have been doing it twice a year for years and, since 2011, the clubs have been loaded with prospects. The 2 top catching prospects have followed each other and I have seen each play at least a dozen times. To say that I am sold on Swihart is a gross understatement and it is good to see that the very astute, except for Henry Owens(hee hee), people at BP are beginning to see the same thing. Vasquez may be good but his body just does not look like a baseball player and my comparison has always been biased because of my view of Swihart so I cast my absolutely meaningless lot with Swihart.

Jul 10, 2014 09:40 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Al Skorupa
BP staff

I think it's going to be Vazquez and Ross. Swihart has a chance to see action in 2015, but I'd be surprised if he didn't start at Pawtucket. I see Swihart as a first division catcher, too. These things tends to sort themselves out with injuries and performance, but I'd be totally fine splitting starts between Vazquez and Swihart for a while, at least. You can find playing time for both pretty easily and protect both. Either way it's a good problem to have.

Jul 10, 2014 11:00 AM
 
BP staff member Chris Mellen
BP staff

Vazquez's body has actually transformed quite a bit since he signed with the organization. I agree with you that he's a "bad body" player, but when I saw him as an 18-year-old in Lowell he was even more soft. The overall progress Vazquez has made with his game since that year has been pretty steep. I had him as an organization player after seeing him in the early stages. The bat dragged a ton through the strike zone, and the footwork behind the plate was very rough. The next season in Greenville, there was some pretty rapid progress. He wasn't even in the regular mix to start the season that year, but an injury pushed his playing time up and he took off from there.

I agree with you on Swihart as his progress since turning pro has been rapid. I see him as the long-term guy given his combo of potential solid-average-to-above-average offense at the position, and though his defense isn't on Vazquez's level, its can round to close to plus down the line.

Jul 10, 2014 16:35 PM
 
oldbopper
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Just for a chuckle as a followup to the previous blurb, at least I think its with at least a smile. Red Sox lineup on Opening Day 2015.
C/ Blake Swihart
1B/ Mike Napoli
RF/ Giancarlo Stanton
DH/ David Ortiz
2B/ Mookie Betts
SS/ Xander Bogaerts
3B/ Brock Holt
CF/ Jackie Bradley, Jr.
LF/ Empty Uniform

and on the bump: It ain't going to be Jon Lester because he will be in Miami along with Pedroia, Doubront and a AAA pitcher.

Jul 10, 2014 09:52 AM
rating: -4
 
username49

Yeah....No. Are you saying Miami would trade Stanton for Pedroia, Doubront, and a AAA a pitcher? If so, that is ludicrous. I suppose there is a chance (very little chance) that Stanton ends up in Boston, but it would cost something along the lines of Betts, Swihart, and either Barnes or Owens, plus another young arm or position player.

Jul 10, 2014 10:05 AM
rating: 2
 
oldbopper

I think you will notice I included Lester.

Jul 10, 2014 12:10 PM
rating: -2
 
Plucky

Can we have some kind of moratorium on [my favorite team] trades [contract we don't want anymore], [upcoming FA], and 2 B-grade prospects for Stanton posts?

Jul 10, 2014 12:18 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Carsley
BP staff

This would eliminate 20% of the content on The Internet.

Jul 10, 2014 14:12 PM
 
oldbopper

I guess you couldn't see that it was said with tongue securely planted in cheek, but, I must admit, all members of Red Sox Nation will fantasize and hallucinate about Stanton.

Jul 10, 2014 14:21 PM
rating: -1
 
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