keyboard_arrow_uptop
The BP Merch Store is now open! BP360 is back, plus tons of apparel options!

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.

While this would all typically make for a fantastic backup catcher profile, the bat has begun to impress scouts to a greater degree. Vazquez has a short, quick, contact-oriented stroke, and he sprays the ball to all fields and into both gaps. His best asset at the plate is his selective approach; while he will whiff, he controls the strike zone well. He does not possess premium bat speed, and good velocity gives him problems, so he can be pitched inside with fastballs. For all his patience, he is sometimes prone to chasing good spin low and away when he's behind in the count.

I didn't think power was going to be part of Vazquez’s game at all, but he's convinced me that he will be at least a 35-grade power guy. In batting practice the righty increasingly shows good pop to his pull side, and in games he’s gotten better and better at jumping on mistakes and hammering them, too. He's a strong kid, and I think he's capable of 7-10 homers a year (perhaps more in his prime). The extra-base hits will be there. One downside is that Vazquez is a very poor straight-ahead runner, which will turn some doubles into singles.

One comp I've heard from multiple scouts is Carlos Ruiz. The two have somewhat similar builds, and there is some sentiment that Vazquez's power might blossom late like Chooch's did. I do harbor some concern that he’ll wear down after taking a beating behind the plate, because he’s looked a little sluggish in recent viewings. That could be a great excuse for the organization to regularly mix and match Vazquez and Blake Swihart in future years. Ultimately, Vazquez is a first-division catcher, but a glove-first one—an impact defender who can contribute with the bat. With his frame, patience, and excellent glove, Vazquez is virtually Pierzynski’s opposite in almost every way. He's also an immediate upgrade, and I'm convinced that he can be the primary backstop for a playoff team.

Immediate Impact: The switch from Pierzynski to Vazquez could pay quick dividends with Boston's pitching staff. There is a strong chance that Boston's playoffs hopes are already gone, though, which gives Vazquez a chance to acclimate to the big-league lifestyle and clubhouse without some of the pressure that comes with a pennant race (and also gives the staff an opportunity to evaluate him). It's probably unfair to expect much from him at the plate in 2014, but it’s likely that his defense will win him rave reviews this season and a chance to be the primary catcher in 2015 and beyond. —Al Skorupa

Fantasy Impact: Vazquez is a perfect example of a prospect who has more value in real life than for fantasy purposes. Even though he was one of the better catching prospects in the game, he never sniffed a dynasty top-100 list, and he probably wouldn't have made any top-150 lists either. Glove-first catchers with marginal offensive ceilings simply aren't worth that much, even in deep dynasty leagues. In TDGX, for example—a league that rosters 800-plus players—Vazquez is unowned, as are the likes of Rene Rivera, Brayan Pena, Nick Hundley and Martin Maldonado.

Unfortunately, that's probably the type of offensive performance we can expect from Vazquez right away. His offensive upside this season probably looks something like .260/.310/.350, which is as unexciting as it sounds. The good news, however, is that even a performance along those lines would likely solidify a starting spot for Vazquez next year, and this is a player who's shown an ability to make adjustments and hit better as he's moved up the ladder. His progress may be slow and steady, as it is with many catchers, but there's reason to hope that he could be a top-20 option in his prime years.

Right now, however, he should be unowned in just about every league. There's a little more wiggle room for adding him in AL-only leagues, as he should see the majority of starts behind the plate for the Red Sox for the balance of the season. David Ross is 37 going on 52, and the only other competition Vazquez faces is Dan Butler, so Vazquez is a safe bet for around 200 plate appearances this year, even if Ross catches about 40 percent of Boston’s remaining games.

It's not sexy, but there's not a lot of premium catching talent that's close to the majors. Vazquez probably isn’t as “good” an offensive prospect as Austin Hedges, but he's not that far from it. Plus, he'll be in a more favorable ballpark and has beaten Hedges to the punch. Don't spend FAAB on him unless you're truly desperate, but keep him in mind in deep dynasty and AL-only leagues as a potential second catcher or injury replacement. —Ben Carsley

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
oldbopper
7/10
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.
alskor
7/10
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.
cmellen
7/10
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.
oldbopper
7/10
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.
username49
7/10
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.
oldbopper
7/10
I think you will notice I included Lester.
Plucky
7/10
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?
BenC22
7/10
This would eliminate 20% of the content on The Internet.
oldbopper
7/10
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.