Breaking Down the Red Sox Catching Situation
I believe it was Billy Madison who said “It takes more than two to tango… or something like that”. Well “something like that” is exactly what the Boston Red Sox have behind the plate going into the 2017 season.
Last season the catching situation in Boston was hazy until Sandy Leon emerged as the clear starter. This was due in part to Christian Vazquez’ lack of offensive production and an injury to Blake Swihart. While there are few question marks or intense battles for a starting position, there are opportunities for all three catchers to show what they are capable of. Will the Red Sox stick with offensive juggernaut Sandy Leon? The defensive specialist Christian Vazquez? Or the young and athletic Blake Swihart? Without further ado, let’s break down the Red Sox catching situation for the upcoming season.
Sandy Leon – I never got tired of saying “anotha one” when the DJ Khaled lookalike recorded hit after hit after hit. It seemed like every time I watched Sandy Leon last season he hit a double or a home run. At one point he was the hottest hitter in baseball, hitting .458 with a 1.212 OPS in his first 59 at bats. Leon’s production slowed, but he finished the season with a .310 batting average, 7 home runs, and a .845 OPS. Leading all catchers in batting average, Sandy Leon was going to be in the lineup.
But what can we expect from the big switch hitter in 2017? Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine Leon catching fire again and hitting at an impossible clip. A career .254 hitter, it’s likely that his offensive numbers will regress. However, Leon had an impressive 2016 campaign defensively, as he made only one error and threw out base stealers at an impressive 41% rate. 12% higher than the league average, Leon stopped guys from stealing with more authority than Ray Charles did in The Blues Brothers. Even if we see a drop in offensive production, Leon showed what he is capable of last season. Atop the Red Sox depth chart, the starting catching job is Sandy Leon’s to lose.
Christian Vazquez – Praised as the best receiving catcher of the trio, the concerns are with Vazquez’ offensive capabilities. Though his defensive statistics were slightly below those of Sandy Leon, Vazquez’ unmeasurable skills impressed many during the 2016 season. These skills include pitch framing and game calling. Vazquez also cut down 35% of opposing base stealers which is well above the league rate, but is far below his 2014 rate of 52%. If Vazquez can return to a rate that high, his playing time will surely increase. The ability to stymie opponents’ running games not only helps keep runs from scoring, but helps to keep double plays in order and get the defense off of the field faster. Defense, however, is not a question mark for Vazquez. It’s not a matter of whether he will play well defensively, but how brightly he will shine.
Where there are question marks, however, are in the batter’s box. Vazquez slashed a pedestrian .227/.277/.308 in 2016. With Sandy Leon playing very well defensively, these offensive numbers are not enough for Vazquez to crack the lineup solely due to his defensive abilities. For Vazquez to see serious time, one of two things will need to happen. Either a) Sandy Leon goes cold at the plate, or b) Vazquez heats up at the plate. If one of these two things happen, Vazquez can earn himself the job.
Blake Swihart – Every group has a wildcard. The odd man out. In Always Sunny it’s Charlie. In Entourage it’s Johnny Drama. John Bender in the Breakfast Club, Kanye West in hip hop, Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. I think you get the picture. For the Boston Red Sox catchers, Blake Swihart is the wildcard. The youngest of the three, Swihart is also the most athletic and dynamic. Though his 2016 season was cut short due to injury, Swihart impressed with his offense in 2015. As a 23 year old, Swihart posed a slash line of .274/.319/.392. While not quite up to Sandy Leon’s numbers, the speedy switch hitter showed that he can produce at the highest level.
With so much raw athleticism, Swihart’s potential is very high. In 2016, the Red Sox chose to move him to the outfield, which did not work out very well (errors, injury, I will spare you the painful details). Fast forward to now, and Swihart is back behind the plate in spring training, where it seems he will be staying for the remainder of the season. Slated to start in AAA, Swihart will hone his catching abilities and aim for a return to big league action at some point in 2017. So yes, he may be the odd one out of the bunch, but he offers depth and value to the Red Sox roster. Though we may not see Swihart behind the dish immediately, he is the catcher I am most excited to watch develop in the future.
The Red Sox have an electric lineup. They have a scary starting rotation. There are few holes to fill on this team, which is poised for success in 2017. With the exception of third base, I would call the situation at catcher the most unclear of any position for the Red Sox. Options, however, is something we are not short on. Each catcher has his strengths, and if any one of the three hits a hot streak, the Red Sox lineup will be even more dangerous on a nightly basis than it already is.
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