Baseball never stops for Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez again played winter ball in Puerto Rico this offseason despite cracking Boston’s major league roster in 2014. The 24-year-old catcher also texted former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek in an effort to better himself as both a catcher and a leader.
“Of course, that’s important,” Vazquez said Saturday of assuming a leadership role in 2015. “Get the trust of your pitchers. That’s the main thing, like Varitek was the captain of the team. It’s important to be a leader on the field.”
Vazquez drew rave reviews last season after receiving his first big-league call-up in July. He replaced A.J. Pierzynski, who was released, as the Red Sox’s starting catcher and immediately earned the respect of his teammates and coaches through his passion, work ethic and overall enthusiasm for the game.
Vazquez’s arrival in many ways marked an important transition. The Pierzynski era proved disastrous, as reports surfaced upon his departure that the veteran catcher wasn’t always on the same page as the Red Sox’s pitching staff. Now, the Red Sox are moving forward with a starting catcher who’s young, hungry and eager to obtain as much as knowledge as possible. It’s likely to have a positive trickle-down effect.
“What I will say about (Vazquez and Mookie Betts) is they share a common thread of never stopping to ask questions. They don’t stop at that. They thirst for information,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday at the team’s annual Town Hall. “I think they’re genuinely confident in their abilities, but not to the point of taking things for granted. But they want to know anything that might give them an edge.”
While Vazquez’s diligence was evident daily, one particular interaction spoke to his willingness to accept any challenge. Most catchers will attest that handling a knuckleball is a pain in the you-know-what, yet Vazquez apparently seemed genuinely fired up about catching floaters from Steven Wright.
“He was probably the first catcher that I’ve ever thrown to that was excited to catch me,” Wright said. “The first game I threw to Christian, he was on the left field line before I was out there because he was so excited about catching. He did a great job.”
Wright lauded Vazquez’s pitch-sequencing, a task that’s even more difficult when dealing with a knuckleballer. The right-hander also suggested that Vazquez instills confidence in the pitchers he’s working with because he’s constantly thinking outside the box and assessing the flow of a particular at-bat within a given game.
“It’s definitely impressive. He’s definitely advanced beyond his years,” Wright said. “It’s just exciting to see that he’s still got a lot of room to grow as far as calling the game.
“The grind of a catcher is tough and that’s why a lot of guys can’t do it for a long period of time. But I feel like he has a really good opportunity of being that guy.”
Conditioning has been a big part of Vazquez’s offseason. It shows. He was noticeably slimmer at last weekend’s Baseball Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Vazquez said he lost 7 pounds and is down to around two bills.
Vazquez’s success at the major league level will be predicated on his defense, which many, including Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly, already consider to be elite. (Kelly calls Vazquez “Mini Yadi” because of his similarities to St. Louis Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina.) But taking the next step offensively remains an important part of Vazquez’s preparation, even if it’s not priority No. 1.
“Yeah. I’m working with that in the offseason. I feel great in the offseason,” Vazquez said. “I think I need to separate the defense with the offense. I need to be more focused with my pitchers. Hitting is a plus. For me, the most important thing is catching, calling good games and winning games.”
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Fort Myers for spring training Feb. 20. Vazquez said he plans to arrive Feb. 10 so that he has enough time to fully learn Boston’ revamped pitching staff.
It’s all part of the endless cycle that is Vazquez’s career.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images