BOSTON — Christian Vazquez was born to catch.
Vazquez has been excellent, particularly defensively, in his first five-plus weeks in the majors. The Red Sox catcher has flashed talent, intelligence and an impeccable work ethic en route to energizing a last-place Boston club.
“He asks a lot of questions,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Friday’s game against the Houston Astros. “The aptitude is very good, from what we’ve seen. That’s shown by his game-calling the second and third time through the lineup and the adjustments that he’s made from previous at-bats. He’s made a very strong impression early on.”
Vazquez’s rocket arm is well-documented. It was his meal ticket to the bigs, with most Red Sox fans receiving their first glimpse of the weapon during spring training the last two years. Although the 23-year-old has only been in the majors for a little more than a month, the Red Sox are showing plenty of trust in Vazquez’s ability and decision-making behind the plate.
“We turn him loose. We give him the green light, if you will, to be aggressive,” Farrell said. “ … We’ll remind him in those one-run games, particularly if we’re up a run, maybe to temper some of that aggressiveness rather than give 90 feet, potentially two bases if it’s a throw down into the right field corner. But the one thing he’s shown, whether it’s in his throws behind runners or his trips to the mound or his game-calling, the instincts are very, very good for a young player.”
One knock on catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose release earlier this season paved the way for Vazquez’s call-up, was that the veteran backstop seemed disinterested in his pitchers’ performance. That’s hardly the case with Vazquez, however, as the rookie’s enthusiasm is both candid and intense. It’s an interesting — and perhaps valuable — complement to his skill set.
“They appreciate his work back there,” Farrell said. “There’s never a ball that goes to the backstop. His blocking ability with all types of pitches in the dirt with two strikes is outstanding. The passion that he shows and the energy he shows behind the plate, I think pitchers feed off it. We’ve seen a number of times — strike three, he’ll give a fist pump. And I think guys feed off of his energy behind the plate.”
Quick feet, cannon throws and amazing pitch-framing have been hallmarks of Vazquez’s game. The question, of course, always has been whether he’ll produce enough offensively at the major league level to carve out a lengthy career as a starting catcher. The highly regarded prospect made impressive strides in the minors over the last two seasons, though, and he already is showing promise in The Show.
Vazquez entered Friday having reached base safely in 16 of his last 19 starts, during which he hit .250 (17-for-68) with five doubles and 12 RBIs. More importantly, his offensive approach looks consistent and productive enough that his bat won’t become a liability, even if it isn’t his biggest asset.
“We’ve seen him stay on breaking balls that are running away from him,” Farrell said. “He gives himself a chance to handle pitches that are on the outside part of the plate, and for a young hitter, I think that’s what’s going to allow him to contribute early on.”
Vazquez arrived in the majors last month with plenty of promise. He’s already delivering the goods.