It’s sink or swim for Sandy Leon.
The Boston Red Sox acquired Leon from the Washington Nationals on Monday upon placing catcher Christian Vazquez on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain. Leon is the front-runner to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster as the backup catcher, but the 26-year-old, who made his spring training debut with the Red Sox on Tuesday, has a lot to cover in less than one week.
“It’s a little bit of a crash course in a number of ways,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Port Charlotte, Fla., before Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “That’s us getting familiar with him, non-verbal communication with him from the dugout, the signs and everything. … Trying to get his arms around names and faces first and just seeing the ball travel through the strike zone for him to receive.”
Leon started Tuesday and caught five innings before giving way to top prospect Blake Swihart, who figures to start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Tommy Layne and Anthony Varvaro pitched to the new backstop, who also went 1-for-2 with a single.
“It was kind of exciting to play and learn some of the new pitchers,” Leon told reporters after Tuesday’s 11-8 win, which was highlighted by a nine-run ninth inning. “I feel good. In the first inning, I was a little nervous. But (catching several pitchers) was good for me.”
Farrell faces a tough task in handling the Red Sox’s catching situation over the final week of spring training. Not only is Leon trying to learn a whole bunch of information in a very short period of time, but Boston also needs to find ways to give Ryan Hanigan (the starter in Vazquez’s absence) and veteran Humberto Quintero (competing with Leon for the backup role) the necessary amount of work.
Leon has the inside track on the Red Sox’s backup role — unless the team acquires another catcher — because he’s out of minor league options and already on Boston’s 40-man roster. But the Sox can’t afford to enter the season with a backup catcher who’s lost behind the plate. Leon, who is known for his defensive acumen, will be a busy man while trying to prove he belongs with the Red Sox.
“First, I want to make the team,” Leon said after Tuesday’s debut. “I might take a couple of weeks to get used to everyone — the teammates, the coaches and know all the names. But I feel great right now. This is a great opportunity for me.”
Farrell was pleased with Leon’s first taste of action in a Red Sox uniform. It wasn’t a perfect effort behind the dish, but there was nothing to suggest he can’t catch up with hard work.
“He looked like he had a pretty good feel for reading some swings and receiving guys he’s never seen before,” Farrell said. “He’s quiet behind the plate, and those are things we knew from our scouting report. Anything other than that, we’re five innings into our observation. First look, as advertised.”
Leon, who has just 34 games of major league experience, has been thrown into the deep end with his new organization. He has a chance to lock down a significant role, though.
Expect Leon to do whatever it takes to keep his head above water.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images