The Red Sox worst fears were realized this week when it was confirmed that young catcher Christian Vazquez would require Tommy John surgery, and subsequently miss the entire 2015 season.
Since gaining exposure with Boston, Vazquez rapidly became on of the team’s most intriguing young talents. Vazquez turned heads with his terrific defense, which included a rocket arm and well above-average pitch framing and game calling skills. While his offense left some room for improvement, the team’s deep line-up would have made his development at the plate easy to mask.
With Vazquez on the self, the team will now have to survive with a catching tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon for at least a few months. And while that may seem like a lack-luster duo at the surface, the Red Sox are still in a good place at the catchers position.
Hanigan was acquired this offseason for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. While it didn’t look like a big trade at the time, Hanigan has now become Boston’s primary catcher. To his credit, the 33-year old is not slouch behind the plate, and has the ability to post high on-base numbers. While Anover, Mass native has virtually never been entrusted with a full time catching gig over his 8 year career, he did manage to appear in 112 games in 2012 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. During that time, Hanigan batted primarily in the 8th spot in the line-up and posted a .274/.356/.357 slash. While the last two years have seen the veteran struggle to hit over .200, with an equally unimpressive .312 on-base percentage, Fangraph’s Steamer projections predict a more normal season for Hanigan, batting .251 and reaching base at a .336 clip.
As is with Vazquez, fans can count on Hanigan’s defense to be on display game after game. Throughout his career, Hanigan has been among the top 10 catchers in pitch framing statistics, while also putting his throwing arm on display. During both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Hanigan lead the National League in caught stealing percentage, posting a 45% and 48% respectively.
Sandy Leon, the second part of Boston’s new look tandem, is similar to Hanigan in that his defense is better than his offense. Acquired by Boston this past week, the 26-year old has appeared in just over 30 games in parts of 3 seasons with the Washington Nationals. While Leon’s statistics at the dish are nothing short of pedestrian as a minor leaguer, his defense has been what has sustained his brief career as a sporadic major league backstop.
At this point, it appears as though Hanigan and Leon will undoubtedly occupy the two catchers slots on Boston’s Opening Day roster, but that hardly means that they are the solution behind the dish. Looking at the long term picture, Hanigan’s future as the primary backstop and Leon’s existence on the 25-man roster will be determined by how top prospect Blake Swihart performs at triple-A. With just 18 games as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox last season, Boston rightfully sent the 23-year old back to triple-A for more seasoning. However, his impressive stint with the Red Sox this spring begs seems to forecast big things for Baseball America’s number one catching prospect. Therefore, depending on how hard Swihart knocks on the major league door to start the season, the loss of Vazquez could mean the early arrival of Blake Swihart.
- In a not-so-shocking development, the Red Sox demoted Rusney Castillo to minor league camp as the team continues to whittle down their roster. Castillo, who was sidelined early with a oblique injury to start the year, came back strong in the tail end of spring and hit .310 with 2 homers and 5 RBI’s in 9 games. With Castillo set to join the Paw Sox to start the season, Boston appears set to use Shane Victorino as their every day right fielder to open the year. (Boston Red Sox send Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr. to Triple-A Pawtucket)
- Asking whether Mike Napoli can move back to catcher in the absence of Christian Vazquez is crazy for a couple of glaring reasons, most of which you can probably figure out for yourself. But since moving to first base full time, the 33-year old has found a new home and put catching in his rear view mirror. (Mike Napoli’s hips are actually better, but he’s still not going to catch)
- Right handed hurler Matt Barnes has been perhaps the most impressive rookie in Red Sox camp this spring. Showing off a blazing fastball in the mid-to-high 90’s with a darting curve, Barnes has tuned heads in the early goings of 2015, and might be the favorite to capture Boston’s final bullpen spot. (Bethel’s Matt Barnes making push for spot in Red Sox bullpen)
- David Ortiz was undoubtedly the best hitter in the 2013 World Series, but former-Cardinal Allen Craig, was also on a torrid pace during that fall classic. After spending last year battling a nagging foot injury, and subsequently being traded to the Red Sox, the 30-year old has returned to health and has looked more like the hitter that was a stalwart in the Cardinals line-up. (Allen Craig looking like hitter who was Cardinals best)
- Tweet of the day: #MookieFace will haunt opposing pitcher’s dreams.