The Red Sox have options at catcher in Beantown for 2017 but are all three going to make the big league roster and who is the catcher of the future?
When the Sox went into Spring Training for 2017, there were a lot of questions that were still left unanswered after 2016. Was Pablo Sandoval going to be ready for the season or was he the next Carl Crawford bust? Could the Red Sox make the post season on just David Price and Rick Porcello? Could the Sox fix the bullpen in the post Uehara era? Who was going to be the starter at catcher for Boston in ’17?
Panda has come to play now that he’s in proper form posting a .339/5/20 slash in 20 games during the spring. Yes that’s right, Sandoval is averaging a run knocked in a game. He’s also adding a .349/.677/1.027 OBP/SLG/OPS line. No complaints there. Dave Dombrowski addressed the starting pitching issue which has recently grown with David Price’s prolonged shoulder problems. The Sox got Chris Sale from the White Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two others players. Sale is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings. He’s added just two walks while also striking out 26. The only pitcher who did better was Kyle Kendrick who struck out 33 in 31 innings managing a 2.18 ERA and 4-0 record. Two for two so far.
The bullpen isn’t a complete disaster but the Tyler Thornburg injury hasn’t been helpful. Robbie Ross hasn’t helped his case either. After losing Koji Uehara, soon to be 42, to the Cubs and both Junichi Tazawa 30, and Brad Ziegler 36, to the Marlins during the off season, we needed bullpen replacements. We’re still waiting to see if that’s a possibility. Age played a major factor in not signing the three. Tazawa just came off his second straight season with an ERA north of 4.00. Ziegler’s wasn’t worth the price and Uehara is over 40.
That leaves Matt Barnes who has had a great spring. 13 K’s in 9 2/3 innings pitched adding a 0.93 ERA. Brandon Workman has a 1.29 ERA with 6 K’s in 7 innings of work. Robby Scott is challenging Ross as the main lefty. He’s been almost perfect posting a 10 K’s in 11 2/3 innings pitched with a 0.77 ERA. Jamie Callahan has also done well getting 10 K’s in 10 1/3 innings pitched with one win and has posted a 0.87 ERA. Once Carson Smith is healthy, the bullpen figures to be even better and that’s all before the closer. If Craig Kimbrel can bring back his A game, then the pen goes from good to very good. I’d give this a 1/2 a point as there’s room for improvement. Only a few days left before the season starts.
One of the lingering questions after the 2016 season regarded our catchers. It’s felt like years since we’ve had Jason Varitek behind the dish. Even with just a few days left before the new season starts there is no clear cut leader in the pack. We already know that Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez will begin the year in Boston. Blake Swihart will be sent down to start the season in Pawtucket. Swihart is the only one with options left and only one with the ability to play the outfield, a nice added bonus. Still with Swihart starting in AAA, who’s the starter in Boston?
Case for Christian Vazquez
We knew that Vaz was a defensive specialist not a hitting guru. Vazquez has never hit above .250, his best was .240 back in 2015. He’s also hit only two career home runs. If it wasn’t for his ability to throw out runners at such a high level, he’d be out of a job. The Sox could in theory use Vaz has their main man if they had eight other guys that could crush the ball consistently. Vaz is the best defensive option behind the plate and there’d be a minimum number of a guys trying to steal bases. It looks like he’ll come in late in games as a defensive substitution and start a few games down the line. Vaz doesn’t turn 27 until August meaning he’s still young, we’re all hoping that he can find his hitting stroke this season.
Case for Sandy Leon
We know that Leon has had a nice spring and his offensive numbers are better than those of Vazquez. Leon isn’t going to throw guys out left and right, but he is going to add pop to the line up. He’s had two home runs and five runs knocked in this spring. Just lucky that it all happened in one game against the Orioles. His numbers still showcase that he’s getting on base. Some felt his 2016 campaign was just luck. I don’t agree with that, last Year Leon sported a .310/7/35 line. Yes it was a small sample size but he crushed it in just 78 games last season. Doubling up those numbers to make up a full season you’re looking at something close to a .310/14/70 line. At age 28, we might see a player enter his prime. Playing on a single year, $1.3 million dollar contract, we’ll be looking forward to seeing him hopefully reward Sox management for taking a chance on him.
Red Sox catcher of the Future
For right now the Sox will roll out with Leon and Vazquez. Just because Swihart isn’t starting in Boston doesn’t mean that he won’t play this year. It’ll certainly come as a disappointment to him but he knows he’s got several things going his way. For one he’s 24 years old. Funnily enough, he’ll be celebrating his 25th birthday on Opening Day. Two, he’s a switch hitter with the ability to get on base either with contact or power. Let’s also not forget that he can steal a base every once in a while and can play in the outfield. Third, he’s a professional. He knows when his time will be. Less than a day until Red Sox baseball begins.
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