The Boston Red Sox will enter the offseason with a full plate. It would be even fuller if not for an important development behind the dish.
Catcher Christian Vazquez has been as advertised since earning his first major league call-up back on July 9. The Red Sox, who were forced to look for Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s replacement last offseason, will enter this winter knowing they have a backstop capable of being the Opening Day starter, which lightens the load for an organization that must make several key moves to return to contention in 2015.
“I think he’s ready and capable of handling that (starting) role,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. “I think what will be as important is who is paired up with him. That’s not to eliminate anyone that’s here. That’s not to suggest who that might be.
“Christian, I think, in short order, has gained a reputation around the league to be somewhat of a shutdown thrower with the aggressiveness of his picks, of his throws to bags. Like we said, he’s a focal point for a team, when they’re on offense, to have to contend with behind the plate.”
Vazquez’s defensive prowess is well-documented. He turned heads in spring training in both 2013 and 2014 through his shutdown ability, showcasing an array of skills — rocket arm, tremendous footwork and quick release — that were enough for some to question whether signing veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract in free agency was even necessary.
The question with Vazquez, of course, was whether he’d produce enough offensively. While a catcher can succeed in the majors with a defensive-centric skill set, there’s still a certain level of offensive production that’s to be expected. Vazquez needed to prove he was up to the challenge before the Red Sox handed the keys to the former ninth-round pick from Puerto Rico.
Vazquez showed improvement in the minors — first with Double-A Portland, then with Triple-A Pawtucket — over the last two years to the point where Boston was comfortable cutting ties with Pierzynski, who simply didn’t fit in on the field or off the field. The 24-year-old has endured some offensive struggles since joining the Red Sox — hitting .211 (34-for-161) with a .272 on-base percentage in 49 games — but he doesn’t look overwhelmed, by any means.
“Setting aside the batting average, there’s the ability to handle a bat,” Farrell said. “He can execute the small game. He can hit to the situation. He’s a very good situational hitter, including being able to sacrifice with great consistency.
“I would say he’s one of the more complete hitters that has come to us, setting aside the batting average.”
Of course, Vazquez’s major league success will be predicated on controlling the running game, handling a pitching staff and making necessary in-game adjustments with whoever is toeing the rubber. He has excelled in all of those areas since joining the Red Sox — a call-up that kick-started Boston’s youth movement — and his continued growth offensively has given the club reason to believe he could be the guy in 2015.
Finding a suitable catching partner is necessary if David Ross doesn’t re-sign with Boston. But the Red Sox, unlike last offseason, don’t need to worry about finding an anchor behind the plate.
They already have one on the roster. He’s No. 55.
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