‘He has a chance': Why Christian Vazquez may be ready for big leagues right now
|05.28.14 at 6:55 am ET|
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Catcher’s gear engulfs Christian Vazquez by his locker at McCoy Stadium. A pair of red shin guards litters the ground around his locker while a catcher’s mask, surrounded by his uniforms and warmup gear, sits dead center on a shelf in his locker. To the left of the locker on a porch that stands in the corner of the PawSox clubhouse sits a burly bag filled with Vazquez’s game gear. Vazquez’s bats sit, almost hidden, behind a closet full of clothing.
The overwhelming amount of catcher’s gear around Vazquez seemingly embodies the hype surrounding the prospect. At some point, Vazquez almost surely will make the trip on I-95 to Boston based on his advanced abilities behind the dish. In spring training, manager John Farrell stated that Vazquez is advanced enough defensively to play in the majors right now.
“He has the ability to shut down a running game with the way he defends and the way he throws,” Farrell told reporters in March. “This is a guy, there would be no hesitation if the need were to arise to call upon.’”
While Vazquez’s potential for Gold Glove-caliber defense is the most lauded part of his game, the Red Sox advanced the 23-year-old to Pawtucket at the end of last year based on the tremendous strides the catcher made with a bat in his hands. While spending all but his last regular-season game of 2013 with Double-A Portland — the same level where he spent the final weeks of the 2012 season — Vazquez took a step forward with his approach at the plate, hitting .289/.376/.395 with five homers, 48 RBIs, 19 doubles a triple, 48 walks and 44 strikeouts in 96 games with the Sea Dogs.
PawSox manager Kevin Boles, who was the Sea Dogs skipper during Vazquez’s time with the team, saw a very noticeable improvement in the player’s approach at the plate in 2013.
“He came up to Portland a couple of years ago and seeing him, he was pretty pull-conscious the first time he came through Double-A,” Boles said. “Then we started to see the adjustments where he started to use all fields and the frequency of contact has been something that is on his side also. The walks-to-strikeout ratio greatly improved last year and we’re looking to see that again. People know who he is and I think the other organizations and the other teams, they give him credit that he’s a hitter, that he has a chance to become a quality bat and not jut a defensive specialist behind the plate.”
Despite his steps forward in 2013, Vazquez has struggled at the plate in the early parts of the season, hitting .250/.302/.328 with no homers, 10 RBIs, 10 doubles, 10 walks and 26 strikeouts in 34 contests heading into Tuesday. Vazquez is the first to point out the noticeable decrease in his strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I feel strong in that part right now,” Vazquez said. “I have more strikeouts than walks right now, but I feel good at the plate. I’m hitting the ball good and continuing to work. Keep grinding and it’s going to be better soon.”
The Red Sox kept Vazquez’s development in mind when they set out to find a catcher for the 2014 season. Instead of pursuing a long-term option along the lines of Brian McCann or even pursuing another option like Carlos Ruiz for as many as three years, the Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal, an indication of their plans to have Vazquez potentially start on Opening Day in 2015.
While the Red Sox appear to have planned 2014 as a bridge year between Saltalamacchia and Vazquez, the collective offensive struggles of Pierzynski and David Ross have some clamoring for the promotion of Vazquez. As a group, Red Sox catchers are hitting .240/.280/.370 with six homers and 28 RBIs and rank 23rd in baseball among catchers in WAR at 0.4. While he certainly has the defensive chops to make the leap, Vazquez is still adjusting to Triple-A pitching.
Vazquez says that the most difficult part about the adjustment to Triple-A has been the exposure to a higher level of pitching.
“The pitchers, hitting, it’s tough,” Vazquez said. “They have more experience than Double-A and they know what they are doing on the mound and it’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s OK. I’m going to get it.”
Despite his difficulties at the plate so far this season, Vazquez has impressed the Pawtucket coaching staff with the strides he’s made every day at the plate. Vazquez’s steps forward at the plate lead Boles to believe that Farrell’s spring training assessment of the player’s abilities still rings true.
“He has a chance to be a quality bat,” Boles said. “He has a chance to be a quality bat now and also be a future major league hitter.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching his hitting. His approach, he works to all fields. He’s a guy that can hit and run, a guy that can play the short game. The numbers are early here, too, but I like the consistency of the approach. I think he has a chance to be a quality [hitter] and it’s a new level. There is going to be an adjustment period to [it] and I think he’s done a nice job with that.”
Until the day the Red Sox call upon his services, Vazquez is focusing on his day-to-day work.
“I’m going to continue working hard, and if they call me up, it’s the time, but I don’t pay attention to that,” Vazquez said. “I’m going to keep working hard every day and focus game by game and that’s it.”
While Boles says that Vazquez would be a serviceable hitter at the major league level should the opportunity present itself, the manager does not want to make any concrete predictions about the player’s future in Boston.
“I think we sell the bat short sometimes because the defense is that good,” Boles said. “A lot of players fall into that and they want to categorize a guy as a premium defender and put the bat short or vice versa, but with him I think we’re looking at a guy who could be a complete package. He has a chance.”
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