FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Christian Vazquez, the only thing different is the situation.
Vazquez is in the midst of his first spring training as starting catcher of the Boston Red Sox, which obviously presents a different set of circumstances than years past. The 24-year-old backstop hasn’t changed much with regard to his preparation, though, as his goals remain lofty going into 2015.
“It’s great,” Vazquez told NESN.com on Friday of being dubbed the Red Sox’s Opening Day catcher. “(But) I’m going to be the same guy as last year, working hard every day to do my best.”
Vazquez’s “best” perhaps has yet to come. After all, he only has 55 games of major league experience since earning his first call-up last July. But there’s no doubt that Vazquez is ahead of the curve as far as development goes. He already is a standout defensive catcher whose leadership qualities have shined from the moment he joined the Red Sox.
“Being a leader on the field is very important to us,” Vazquez said. “To build that trust with the pitchers and your teammates, it’s very important to us. It’s like (former Red Sox catcher Jason) Varitek — a leader and a good teammate.”
Vazquez’s offseason is unlike that of most players. He is coming off another stint of winter ball in Puerto Rico, and his offseason studying involves picking the brains of the Molina brothers — Jose, in particular — who are renowned across baseball for their defensive aptitude and baseball IQ. Pitcher Joe Kelly, who played with six-time All-Star Yadier Molina in St. Louis and now Vazquez in Boston, even calls Vazquez “Mini Yadi.” It’s a comparison Vazquez takes pride in given how high he has set his personal bar.
“I want to learn the most I can with them,” Vazquez said of working with the Molinas. “I want to be a Gold Glove catcher. That’s my goal. Most of all, I’m listening to them, I’m learning.
“I want to be like Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez). I want to win a lot of Gold Gloves and be a good catcher in the future.”
Vazquez certainly has Gold Glove potential, as he’s already considered by many to be a “shutdown catcher.” His ability to control the running game is elite, and, according to teammate David Ortiz, opponents are wasting little time in pointing out just how good Vazquez is behind the plate.
“Of course. I’m here for that,” Vazquez said of embracing the “shutdown catcher” label. “Defense, throwing runners out, that helps my team out and the ERA of my pitchers.”
While there’s a lot to like about Vazquez’s defensive game, including his rocket arm, his high intelligence and his uncanny instincts, the former ninth-round pick said Friday he views his footwork as his biggest asset. Either way, Vazquez seemingly realizes his bread is buttered by his work behind the dish and his knack for connecting with his pitching staff.
“For me, my priority is defense right now, getting ready every day,” Vazquez said. “My first priority is the pitcher, and defense comes (first). Right now, I’m focused on defense and calling good games.
“We’ve got guys to hit — Hanley (Ramirez) and David (Ortiz) and everybody. They’re going to bring everybody. My offense is going to come with the games I’m learning (and) watching them hit. I’m going to learn more than (just) hitting.”
Vazquez’s offense ultimately could dictate whether Vazquez is simply a great defensive catcher or an All-Star-caliber backstop, like Yadier Molina. It’s why Vazquez isn’t overlooking any aspect of the game in trying to become an impact major leaguer.
“I want to hit, too. I want to be good offensively, too, because I want money, you know?” Vazquez said with a smile. “I’m not worried about my offense because I know I can hit, but that comes with games and learning and listening, all that stuff.”
Vazquez wants trust, Gold Gloves and money. How about a couple of World Series rings?
“Of course,” Vazquez said definitively.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images