|Ready for his closeup: Why Red Sox felt time was right for Christian Vazquez||07.09.14 at 11:52 pm ET|
The Red Sox have relied heavily on youth all year long, and with the Sox sinking further down in the standings during the homestand, they made a move on Wednesday that signaled that they aren’t backing off of a commitment to and investment in their prospects.
Goodbye, veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday. Hello, 23-year-old Christian Vazquez, promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket and inserted into the lineup as the starting catcher.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Vazquez said. “It’s my dream to be here and play in the big leagues.”
“There was a lot of emotion,” Vazquez said. “It was a good win for us and I’m excited.”
Vazquez had his work cut out for him in his first game in the majors, facing All-Star candidate Chris Sale and catching five pitchers on the evening. He went 0-for-3 at the plate and was pinch-hit for in the ninth, but he looked solid defensively. While he had to work with four relievers, he began the game in something of a comfort zone, catching De La Rosa, his former Triple-A battery mate.
“[Catching De La Rosa] helped me a lot,” said Vazquez after his debut. “I’ve got a lot of experience with him and I’m very confident with him.”
Vazquez may not necessarily be the offensive spark that will turn the lineup around, but he’s described as a game-changer behind the plate.
“I think he’s a great young prospect,” catcher David Ross said prior to Wednesday’s game. “I love his attitude and he’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s not just about hitting or catching, he’s about both. I think he’s going to be a good bright spot for us.”
After 90 games, it’s hard to assess the 2014 Red Sox season as anything but a failure.
A Red Sox squad fresh off a 97-win campaign that resulted in a World Series title was expected to once again establish itself as the cream of the crop in the American League this season -- not slump to the status of cellar dweller.
This is not the 1998 Marlins, who dropped from a 92-70 record (and a World Series title) in 1997 to a dreadful 55-108 season the following year due to a monumental fire sale. The 2014 Red Sox have a payroll of around $164 million and retained 17 of the 2013 team’s 25-man World Series roster.
Simply put, no one expected the Red Sox to be 12 games under .500 at this point of the season. General manager Ben Cherington is among those struggling to make sense of what has transpired.
Now 10 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East, the Red Sox have been put in a position that Cherington has not been familiar with — possibly taking on the role of “seller” as the trade deadline draws near.
“I think we’re in an unusual and perhaps unique position,” Cherington said. “It’s unusual in the sense that we haven’t been in this position — at least since I’ve been here — of even thinking about trading players at the deadline. So that’s unusual. It’s unique because on the one hand, our team is where it is. On the other hand, we’ve got guys on the team who are performing at a very high level who were part of winning a World Series months ago, and that just doesn’t happen often in baseball.
“Sometimes teams are sellers, but not necessarily with guys that are coming off of success like that. We’ll just have to see what happens. As I’ve said before, whatever we do will be with the mind of trying to get better as quickly possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible.”
|Red Sox minor league roundup: How scouts view Anthony Ranaudo; Christian Vazquez feels he’s ready; Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot punctuate impressive June||07.01.14 at 12:13 pm ET|
A year ago at this time, right-hander Anthony Ranaudo was receiving accolades for a Double-A breakthrough that had netted him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game. By the start of July, he’d made 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA. Opponents were hitting under .200 against him, he was striking out just over a batter an inning and just over three batters for every walk, looking like the player who had been the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization from the time that he signed after being drafted in 2010 through spring training of 2012 (before the emergence of 2011 draftees like Henry Owens and Matt Barnes, or the breakthrough by fellow 2010 draftee Brandon Workman).
This year, though receiving less attention in Triple-A (at a time when Owens was named to the Futures Game and looms as the clear top pitching prospect in the Sox system), Ranaudo’s results have been even more impressive. The 6-foot-7 right-hander continued a run of dominance unmatched in his career on Monday, pouring in seven shutout innings while giving up three hits (two doubles and a single), walking two and punching out five. There was some hard contact that resulted in outs, but by and large, Ranaudo continued a nearly seven-week run of putting up zeros.
Monday marked the fifth time in nine starts that he did not allow a run in a start. During that run, he’s 6-2 with a 1.13 ERA (the third best ERA in the minors over that time) while holding opponents to a .173 average. His strikeout totals have been largely modest (7.1 per nine during the stretch, 7.6 per nine on the year), but he’s been increasingly aggressive throwing strikes (3.1 walks per nine during the run, compared to 5.2 walks per nine in his first eight starts — and 1.7 walks per nine in his last five starts) and he’s been more consistently down in the strike zone with a fastball that has typically been around 92 mph but getting up to 93 or 94 mph within outings. Read the rest of this entry »
|Buster Olney on MFB: Jake Peavy ‘probably on the firing line’||06.25.14 at 2:00 pm ET|
ESPN baseball reporter Buster Olney joined Middays with MFB on Wednesday to discuss the state of the Red Sox and the trade market across MLB. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
The Red Sox continue to slide in the standings, as the team’s current 1-5 West Coast trip has put Boston seven games back in the race for the second wild card spot.
While the Red Sox offense (24th in baseball) has been the Achilles’ heel for the team this season, Olney said that playing in a unimpressive AL East gives the team an opportunity to get back into the playoff hunt.
“We have a not seen a Red Sox offense like this in so many years. … To see [Boston] 24th and the Yankees 20th in runs scored, that’s incredible,” Olney said, adding: “The rest of the division is so mediocre to bad that it’s not nearly as dire as it might feel like if you’re watching this team play out day to day. … When I talk with people about the Yankees, they are scrambling to fill the back end of their rotation, they’ve got issue in their lineup that they’re not sure are going to be fixed.
“You talk to people in Toronto, and they’re concerned about the losses of a couple of stars to injuries, they’re worried about the back end of their rotation. They’re trying to get a starting pitcher. The Orioles have had so many issues and the Rays are about ready to trade their best pitcher. There’s no question that where the Red Sox stand in the standings, it’s a deep hole, but this early it’s not something that they can’t climb out of.”
Boston’s lackluster performance this season has opened up the possibility of seeing some of the franchise’s most promising prospects, such as Christian Vasquez and Mookie Betts, getting the call up to the big leagues. Olney agreed that a Vasquez sighting in Boston could be very likely, especially given the struggles of A.J. Pierzynski this year.
“I don’t think there’s any question that they’re front and center with the question about Vasquez. … As of today, out of all catchers in baseball with at least 200 plate appearances, [Pierzynski] is dead last in OPS at .637. … A lot of times, teams will use an off-day to evaluate the situation, to make changes, to make adjustments, they’ve got that coming up,” Olney said. “They’ve got an important series against the Yankees and if you’re going to call up a strong-throwing catcher, this weekend is a good weekend to do it, because the Yankees like to run — fifth in the major leagues in stolen bases.
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Rev the Rafael Devers hype machine; Steven Wright dominating; Christian Vazquez heating up||06.13.14 at 12:40 pm ET|
Rafael Devers is 17 years old and in the Dominican Summer League, which for most, counts as light years from the big leagues. But the third baseman has started his career in a fashion that commands fascination and a sense of enormous possibility, particularly given that when the Red Sox signed him to a $1.5 million bonus last summer, he came with the reputation of being perhaps the best pure bat on the international amateur market.
Devers added to his startling professional debut on Thursday with the type of performance that’s rarely seen in the DSL. He went 2-for-5 with a pair of homers, a walk and a strikeout in his team’s 11-8, 13-inning loss.
But the details of the two homers made them even more noteworthy, even more exceptional. The first homer was an opposite field shot — the second time Devers has cleared the fence in left thus far in the Sox’ DSL facility, a field where even some Cuban players in their mid-20s have had a hard time going deep. The second came in the bottom of the 12th with the DSL Sox trailing, 8-7, two outs, and an 0-2 count to tie the game.
Through the first 11 games of his pro career in the DSL, Devers is now hitting .442 with a .537 OBP, .814 slugging mark, three homers and seven extra-base hits. He has nine walks and seven strikeouts in that span.
To put that in context: Devers has now matched the number of homers (3) that Xander Bogaerts hit in 63 games in the DSL in his pro debut, when the Sox’ top position prospect in decades hit .314 with a .396 OBP, .423 slugging mark and 15 extra-base hits.
To put that in further context: The rest of the DSL Sox have zero home runs. The league average line is .243/.342/.339.
That’s not to say that when he reaches the big leagues, Devers will be a prospect on a par with Bogaerts. But it does say quite a bit about where Devers is right now — a hitting prodigy capable at 17 of driving the ball to all fields, with the fearlessness to clobber a game-tying home run with his team one strike from defeat, with the advancement to dominate his competition as he gets his professional bearings.
It will take years to figure out what that can translate into — performing in the DSL is one thing, performing against left-handed pitchers who can command breaking balls that make left-handed hitters weep is another — but as first impressions go, Devers is making one that stands out from virtually any that have been seen for a Sox player in the DSL in recent years.
|‘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.”
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Travis Shaw moves up; Mookie Pedroia; Blake Swihart’s power surge; Anthony Ranaudo, Christian Vazquez have work to do||05.27.14 at 10:14 am ET|
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 WIN VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES)
– First baseman Travis Shaw, 24, went 1-for-3 in his Pawtucket debut following his promotion from Double-A. Shaw delivered a dominating performance in Portland, hitting .305/.406/.548 with 11 homers, 29 walks and 23 strikeouts while showing the ability to destroy right-handed pitching (.333/.458/.635 with seven homers, 22 walks and 11 strikeouts) and hold his own against lefties (.272/.337/.444 with four homers, seven walks and 12 strikeouts).
Shaw’s dominant performance in Portland this year followed a season of struggle at the same level last year, when he hit .221/.342/.394 with 16 homers but 117 strikeouts (22 percent of plate appearances). But after the season, Shaw worked with his father — former All-Star closer Jeff Shaw — to stay back on the ball and regain the all-fields approach that characterized his career as an amateur through an impressive 2012 full-season debut. Shaw carried that into the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .361/.452/.705 with five homers in 17 games, and maintained his swing and approach through the offseason entering this year.
His reward was a long-anticipated goal — after spending parts of three years in Portland (following an August 2012 promotion to Double-A from High-A, the entirety of 2013 and the beginning of this year), he is finally one step from the big leagues.
‘I was definitely on a mission to show that I could handle Double A because there have been questions that I couldn’t hit consistently at that level for the past year-and-a-half,’ Shaw told the Pawtucket Times. ‘I feel that I’m in a good place mentally and physically. It’s also nice to be out of Portland. I wanted to prove myself and get out of there as soon as possible.’
– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo continued an overpowering run, firing 6 2/3 shutout innings. He’s now allowed just one run in his last three starts spanning 19 1/3 innings (0.47 ERA). The 24-year-old gave up four hits (two singles, two doubles) and struck out four. However, he also threw a relatively modest 64 of 106 pitches (60 percent) for strikes, and for the fifth time in his 11 starts this year, he walked four batters. While Ranaudo has minimized hard contact (opponents are hitting .225 against him with 0.5 homers per nine innings) and is showing the ability to handle a considerable workload (he’s logged at least 104 pitches in each of his last four outings, with a 1.38 ERA from the fourth inning on), his 4.9 walks per nine innings suggest a pitcher who has been searching for his fastball command over the course of the season and who, despite an impressive 2.90 ERA, requires refinement before he’ll put himself in consideration for a spot in a big league rotation. Read the rest of this entry »
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