When I made my lists of prospects to follow in the Red Sox system, I omitted the catcher position. Outside of the number one prospect on the list, Blake Swihart, Sox Prospects only has one catcher listed in their top 60 prospects. Fortunately, the Red Sox have Christian Vazquez ready as the starting catcher in the majors, and top prospect Swihart close to major league ready at Triple A.
With two talented players at the position, the club could trade from this strength. Rumors of a trade with the Phillies for Cole Hamels have swirled all offseason, especially as the Red Sox attempt to rebuild a rotation decimated by the loss of Jon Lester and John Lackey. Vazquez certainly brings plenty of skill to the position, especially on defense. Two different websites that track pitch framing success (Baseball Prospectus, StatCorner) had Vazquez in their top ten even though he only played 55 games in the majors. This plus his excellent throwing arm make him a formidable defensive weapon.
Swihart, though, has a decided edge on Vazquez in offensive numbers. He’s improved offensively each year in the Sox system despite advancing a level every season. Last season he added more power to his game, banging out 13 home runs between Portland and Pawtucket. Various prospect lists all have Swihart as the top catching prospect in baseball based on his potential on offense and solid, improving defense.
It’s still possible that Vazquez could improve and become an above average offensive catcher. He’s only 24, and many catchers develop their offensive game more slowly because of the demands of the position. The Red Sox hope Vazquez develops like Yadier Molina, who didn’t put up his best offensive seasons until his late 20’s.
The Red Sox have the luxury of bringing Swihart along slowly while Vazquez learns at the major league level. If there’s an injury to either Vazquez or backup catcher Ryan Hanigan, Swihart should be ready. When he is ready, the club could balance the workload between the two, keeping them fresh and healthy through the long season.
In the best case scenario, the team will have two highly productive catchers on the roster for years to come. The club still has the option to trade one of them in the future if needed. It’s a situation other teams envy, and the Red Sox management are smart to keep them together.