Most youngsters who grew up in the late 1990s were inclined to watch television shows like Pokeman, SpongeBob Square Pants or Power Rangers.
That wasn’t the case with Pawtucket Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez.
When Vazquez turned on the TV set in his hometown of Bayamon, Puerto Rico more often than not he watched a catching instructional video made by Ivan Rodriguez who went on to become a 14-time All-Star and who won MVP Awards in each league.
“My dad (Rafael) bought it for me when I was seven years old,” said Vasquez, who’s in his Triple-A rookie season. “I watched the video every day with my dad to learn how to play the game. That tape taught me how to catch, how to hit, how to throw and how to run.
“Pudge Rodriguez was one of the best catchers in the world. It was good to have that tape and learn from it.”Vazquez “learned” so much from the Rodriguez tape that entering this season Baseball America rated him:
* The 12th overall prospect and the No. 2 catching prospect in Boston’s farm system.
* The top defensive catcher in Boston’s farm system for each of the last three seasons.
But Rodriguez wasn’t the only Puerto Rican catcher who helped Vazquez.
During spring training of this year, on a day when Boston was playing Tampa Bay, he had an opportunity to discuss catching with veteran Jose Molina.
“He talked to me about continuing to work hard to make my dreams come true,” said Vazquez. “It’s fun to have good advice from Jose who’s a great catcher in the big leagues … a veteran guy. It’s also good to work with him in the off season.
“I’ve met (five-time All-Star) Yadier (Molina) and Jose in Puerto Rico. I learned a lot from them in the off-season about calling games and the mental stuff. It’s great to have them tell you about how important it is to be strong, mentally. It’s good to be friends with them.”
Vazquez, who was Boston’s ninth-round pick in the 2008 draft, already has developed a positive reputation for his defensive ability.
Just ask PawSox manager Kevin Boles.
“As far as commanding the game from behind the plate, as far as taking care of a pitching staff, as far as being able to take the personnel that’s on the mound and match it with what their strengths are on a particular night, and also to recognize swings as well as being a leader on the field, taking trips on your own and having a vocal presence behind there, Christian does that from behind home plate,” said Boles. “Despite his age (23), there’s no question he’s an above average catch-and-throw guy right now.
“I really believe his skills would play above average in the major leagues right now. That’s how highly we think of his ability behind the plate.”
When it comes to throwing, Vazquez has the ability to shut down an opponent’s running game.
Through games of June 6, Vazquez had thrown out 38.2 percent (13-of-34)) of possible base stealers. And in 2013 at Double-A Portland, he gunned out 46.5 percent (46-of-101) possible base stealers.
“I’ve been quick my entire career,” said Vazquez. “I got my arm strong by throwing long toss every day in Puerto Rico in the off-season in the gym … working every day to get better.
“That helped me a lot to get my arm strong.”
How strong Vazquez’s arm is and how quick his release is have been measured ad infinitum by the Red Sox.
“He’s consistently in the 1.8s,” Boles said of the time it takes Vazquez to unleash a throw to second base. “He’ll even get a little bit quicker than that. Last year when he was in Portland (Boles managed the Sea Dogs last season) I think his average was around 1.86 to 1.88. And that was average! We kept a log of close to 100 throws.
“The release, the arm strength and the accuracy … he’s an athletic kid back there. That’s what’s been very impressive about him.”
Vazquez also benefits from the fact he’s worked with several current Pawtucket pitchers at various levels of Boston’s farm system. As a result, this has made it easier for him to earn their trust.
“I’ve worked with every starter here – ‘Webby’ (Allen Webster), in 2012 in Double-A, (Brandon) Workman at Low-A Greenville and Portland and (Anthony) Ranaudo last year at Portland. I have a good relationship with them. The trust is good.
“It’s going to be good to be in the big leagues with them. I hope we all go up at the same time.”Vazquez was a career .263 minor league hitter prior to this season. And through games of June 6, he was hitting .266 with one home run and 15 RBI.
At the moment, those stats don’t faze him.
“I feel like my defense is more important right now in order to get to the big leagues,” said Vazquez. “Working with the pitching staff is very important to get that confidence with the starting rotation.
“The hitting’s going to come. You learn every day (about) hitting working with veteran guys here in Triple-A. It’s going to come. I hope it comes soon.”
In Boles’ opinion, Vazquez’s ability at the plate is better than most observers think.
“What I think people do is make the mistake of selling his bat short because his defense is so good,” said the PawSox skipper. “He’s going to be a major league hitter. He’s a guy that can execute the short game. He can hit-and-run. He works to all fields. He has strength to his pull field (Vazquez bats from the right side). He has real good hand-eye coordination and great hands at the plate. He can work to all fields.
“He has barrel manipulation. As for his walks-to-strikeouts ratio, he knows how to manage the strike zone. He’s got a chance to be a complete player. He really does.”
To say Vazquez is in the right place at the right time would be an understatement.
A.J. Pierzynski, 37, only signed a one-year contract with Boston.
David Ross, also 37, is a backup catcher at best.
“Again, Christian’s skill set, watching him at major league camp and watching the way he profiles defensively, he’s a quality player,” said Boles. “He has a chance to be a premium defender at the major league level someday.
“Right now, he’s at Triple-A. From what we’ve see of his progression going from A ball to Double-A to Triple-A, it’s only going to get better and better. I think someday he’s going to be a quality catcher in the major leagues.”