While the Boston Red Sox are struggling to break .500 as the season rolls along, there’s plenty of optimism looking past this season into the near future.
That feeling of optimism is in large part to two young catchers, Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez. Now before we get into breaking down any statistics, let’s run through a quick history of each player. Vazquez, a 9th round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, has spent the 2014 season playing with AAA Pawtucket. Swihart, a first round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, is currently playing in AA Portland.
Both players are among the best catching prospects in the league, but only one can make it as a full time starter for the major league Red Sox. This week I’ll be breaking down which of them has the makings to land the job.
From an age and experience point of view, Vazquez has the upper hand. He’s 23 to Swihart’s 22, but has been playing in the Red Sox system since 2008 with the Gulf Coast Red Sox. Swihart is in his first season of AA, while Vasquez is in his first full season of AAA (he spent about a month there in 2013). Essentially what this means is that Vazquez will most likely have the chance to prove himself at the major league level, maybe even by the end of 2014 if he proves himself in Pawtucket.
The question is, what exactly will Vazquez be showing. Defense. He’s constantly clocked at 1.9 seconds throwing from home to second, with the pro average time around 1.85. While he’s still slightly north of that, but he’s still developing as a player. Looking at Boston’s roster as it is, veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski is only signed on a one-year deal this season, but his defensive skills are slowly starting to regress. The one bright spot as of now is David Ross‘ defensive capabilities. He’s posted a .978 fielding percentage in 2014, and only allowing 1 passed ball. As long as Ross can hold up for the foreseeable future, Vazquez’ defense wont be as much of a dire need.
Looking at Swihart, he’s still a solid defensive catcher, albeit not up to Vazquez’ level. He’s got great reflexes, but his size is his real only question. For a catcher, he may not have the ideal size, and could see a positional change in the future. Where Swihart does excel over Christian is arguably his raw offensive abilities. He has plus bat speed, and has the potential to fill out as an above average power hitter once he rises to the majors. Through 34 games with Portland, the 22-year old has compiled a well-rounded stat line. A .282 average, 4 home runs, 2 triples, 8 doubles, and 18 runs batted in all demonstrate a growing power ability with a heightened skill of stringing together extra base hits.
Looking at the offensive stats Vazquez has been dropping in Pawtucket, they don’t exactly hold a candle to Blake’s. He has only been batting .256, with no home runs and only 10 runs batted in to show. His .654 OPS hasn’t exactly been jumping off the page either. Obviously, it’s still early in the season, and Vazquez did bat .289 with Portland last season, so he could conceivably turn it around. All that being said, it’s safe to say that Swihart has the higher offensive ceiling, and may even be the better option as of now.
So what does all of this mean? Well, it’s still early to tell. The numbers favor Blake Swihart with a bat in hand, but you’d rather have Vazquez behind the plate. With age and experience as a default, it’s likely that Vazquez makes it to the MLB first. If he can make good on his early opportunities, it may spell for an early position change for the younger Swihart. When all is broken down however, Swihart may have the higher ceiling as of now, but beating out Vazquez wont be an easy feat.