FORT MYERS, Fla. — Christian Vazquez just keeps climbing.
Vazquez, a relative unknown upon arriving at Boston Red Sox spring training last year, immediately turned heads with his remarkable defense, most notably his laser arm, which is nightmarish for potential base stealers. Now, one year later, the 23-year-old catcher seemingly is on the cusp of reaching the majors for the first time in his young baseball career.
“It’s like a ladder — you go up, up, up,” Vazquez said last week while sitting at his locker in the Red Sox’s clubhouse before a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. “Just play the game the right way and respect the game, and you’re going to be there.”
Vazquez’s philosophy on reaching the majors is rather simplistic. But don’t be fooled. There’s nothing simplistic about the catcher’s game. Not only has Vazquez continued to hone his incredible defensive skills, but the former ninth-round pick has worked tirelessly to improve his game-calling, his leadership and even his offensive prowess to the point where he hit .287 with a .375 on-base percentage in 97 minor league games last season.
“Focus,” Vazquez replied when asked how he balances developing in so many different aspects of the game. “I think that’s the main part of baseball. Focus. And if you’re going to play baseball, play baseball. Just forget about the outside and focus on your game and doing your best.”
“Focus” has helped transform Vazquez from a Puerto Rico Baseball Academy product with good defensive tools into an intriguing catching prospect who could transition into a starting role with the Red Sox as early as 2015. In fact, Vazquez’s progress is largely responsible for the Red Sox’s reluctance to offer any catchers, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia, more than a one-year contract in free agency over the offseason.
“That’s good for me, for a young guy,” Vazquez said when asked about the Red Sox’s approach in free agency. “It means (playing in the majors) is going to happen soon, I hope. But I don’t pay attention (to that stuff). I play my game and play hard every day and be myself.”
Vazquez spent most of 2013 with Double-A Portland. He provided his usual stellar defense while also significantly improving offensively with the help of Sea Dogs hitting coach Rich Gedman. Vazquez now considers himself a more complete player, although the up-and-coming backstop doesn’t plan to stop his steady climb anytime soon. Vazquez said last week that he has picked the brains of veteran catchers David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski throughout spring training in an attempt to soak up as much knowledge as possible while around the big league club.
“Just continue playing hard,” Vazquez said of his 2014 goals. “Be the same guy (and) a good teammate. Be the same in the (batter’s) box, fighting the at-bat, and be focused and be consistent in the game.”
Vazquez is nearing the top of the ladder, yet he also seems to realize the last few steps are a doozy.