The giant ball of suck that is the Red Sox outfield has taken the lion’s share of blame for the team’s poor offensive performance this season, but catcher has been another weak spot. A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross are both struggling (combined .248/.284/.374 at the plate), and the Sox catchers rank 25th in the league in wins above replacement. Will the Red Sox bring up defensive whiz Christian Vazquez to improve the position, and is he ready for the major leagues?
The answer to readiness on the defensive side of the ball is a firm yes. Vazquez draws raves both for his strong arm and quick release. Spring Training games for the last few seasons have been personal highlight reels for Vazquez as he throws out runner after runner. This one shows Vazquez at his best, nailing the runner by several feet.
On offense, he has a chance to be better than the current catching tandem, but it’s certainly not a lock. He’s hitting .271/.319/.378 in Pawtucket with two home runs through 50 games. The most disappointing stat is the on base percentage, because it has dipped from his .375 pace of 2013. For those of us tired of seeing a catcher who grounds into a double play on the first pitch (cough Pierzynski cough), the hope was that Vazquez could provide a more patient alternative. The jury is still out on whether that’s the case.
The Red Sox front office signaled their faith in Vazquez and fellow catching prospect Blake Swihart by only signing Pierzynski to a one year deal. With David Ross’ deal also set to expire after the 2014 season, at some point Vazquez should be brought up for major league seasoning. How the club plays will likely determine how quickly that happens. Another long losing streak could trigger a trade of either Pierzynski or Ross to a contending club with a need at catcher. This sort of trade could happen even if the team stays in contention, as they might try to buy and sell at the trade deadline.
Swihart, the other top catching prospect in the system, has shown steady improvement in Portland this year. He put up stellar numbers in 2013, but power was the one ingredient missing. His home run total of six so far this season triples his 2013 output, and his slugging percentage and other power numbers have all risen. He’s a much stronger prospect than Vazquez on offense, and his defense has steadily improved as well.
He’s about a half season behind Vazquez, so may not see time in the majors this year, but it’s not too hard to envision him as the strong half of a catching platoon. Whether the tandem makes the majors this year or not, these two young catchers appear to be the future behind the plate in Boston.