There is no question that for the most part, fans of the Boston Red Sox will be entering the 2017 season with high hopes and cocky attitudes. Why would they not? Each season we analyze the roster, break down the pitching staff, and highlight some strengths and weakness’ and despite if we are lying to ourselves or not, believe that the Red Sox have as good of a chance as any to bring home that flagged trophy.
This season holds an especially high hope however as we are going to witness perhaps the greatest starting three in baseball. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price.
However, even with that stellar group taking the mound, there are still some question marks that we need some answers too.
One of those questions marks stems from the catcher’s position. As we entered the 2016 season, it was pretty clear what the circumstances were going to be. Blake Swihart was going to take the starting duties to lead off the year, and once Christian Vazquez finished rehabbing his elbow from Tommy John surgery the year before, he would be tested out in the spot and, if successful, would succeed it from Swihart.
Vazquez however did not live up to the hype. Eventually his job was taken from an unlikely suitor in Sandy Leon.
Leon began his year in Pawtucket and has struggled year after year when brought to the major league level. Although last year we ran into a tad different scenario as Leon became a bonafide all-star caliber catcher overnight. This now throws a monkey wrench into the 2017 season, as the question again must be discussed, who catches for the Boston Red Sox?
At first glance, people are going to forget about the young, soon to be 25 year old Blake Swihart. Midway through the regular season, Swihart was moved from his natural position at catcher to left field in order to incorporate both his offensive play accompanied by Vazquez’s defensive ability behind the plate simultaneously.
Swihart’s bat is something that entices fans to want to see him behind the dish rather than Vazquez. It is without question that fans love to see scoring and offensive productivity rather than a strong defensive stalemate. And I don’t discount any fans for that as I see why they appreciate that more. It is simply just more exciting to watch.
Quite frankly, I think these fans will not get their wish. I would like to eliminate him from this conversation right now, as I believe that there is no possible chance you see him behind the plate at any point this season. The move from catcher to left field was a clear cut warning sign to me that they do not believe he has the ability to be a major league starter yet and as long as he is with the Red Sox, I am not sure he will get that chance barring any injury concerns for the other two on the roster.
Swihart’s 2016 campaign was cut short last year after a gruesome leg injury took place as he slid into the left field wall. And by the end of the year, a new left fielder emerged from the farm system and stuck his flag into the ground and will not surrender his new found home. Andrew Benintendi is your new starting left fielder and if we see Swihart in left again, it will be due to an injury to Benintendi.
This leaves us with the two obvious choices, Leon and Vazquez.
Why would Sandy Leon receive the honor to be the Sox opening day starter? Career wise, it seems as though that the club had given this man multiple chances to prove his worth and he failed consistently. His bat has always been the brunt of the concern. He is a career minor leaguer for the most part but even so, his major league numbers are so low that you question whether or not his bat is a liability within your lineup.
Let us start with the 2014 season where he at least had 70 plate appearances under his belt. Within those appearances, Leon strung together just 10 hits for a lowly .156 batting average. 2015 was not much different as he had 128 appearances, nearly double of what he had the prior year, but did one in the same tallying 21 hits accumulating a .184 average. Although the sample size seems miniscule, the numbers are there and what they tell you at first glance is that he just cannot hit at the major league level. Am I wrong?
Now on the other hand, his strength is his defensive ability. His game management and poise behind the plate is uncanny and it is something that cannot go unnoticed. The change in the pitching staffs ability last season was palpable when Leon was called up from Triple-A and as a whole, the group became much more effective.
The pitchers seemed to be much more comfortable with the 27 year old catcher and it was a noticeable difference. But is his defensive ability enough to make him the starting catcher for the 2017 season?
Now I pose that question because Christian Vazquez is too known for his defensive ability as well as his unmatched strength at calling games from behind the plate. Or at least, that is what we have been told for a couple of years now.
See this is tough for me to write because I have been awaiting for the emergence of Vazquez for a couple of seasons and I get the sense that the wool was pulled over my eyes. I have read time and time again that this young Puerto Rican catcher will develop into one of the next superstars in the major leagues defensive wise. It was almost that he could do no wrong during his time in the minor league system.
There was always one glaring weakness however and like Leon, it was his bat.
Vazquez had been up and down for the past couple of years between the Boston Red Sox, and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. Although he did lose the entirety of last season due to Tommy John surgery as I had previously stated, his year prior was also nothing spectacular.
Vazquez is 26 years old and has not shown merely any improvement at the major league level in regards to his hitting statistics. And quite frankly, again it pains me to say this, but I have not seen anything miraculous about his fielding ability. It just does not pass the eye test.
Last season as he returned back to the major league diamond on April 15th against the Toronto Blue Jays, he lit up the field sending excitement down the spines of the Fenway Faithful as he picked off a man who had gotten a little to generous with his lead at first base and added to the night going 2 for 4. But realistically, that was the last night that we saw anything intriguing.
The young gun finished the season with a .227 batting average and once he departed back to the minor leagues, the pitching staff actually seemed to pitch collectively better. Now you need to decide whether that was a mere coincidence or if that was due to his absence. But that should effect your decision.
We are aware that both players statistics at the plate are well, poor. And we are aware that they are both known for their superb defensive ability. But the difference is one of the two has displayed their talents on the field while the other one has disappointed time and time again. If the Red Sox are going to base their decision more so off of last seasons performances, than it needs to be Sandy Leon behind the plate on opening day, right?
The pitching staff threw better when he was the captain of the field. His bat for part of the season was one of the most lethal weapons throughout the league. And he has proven his worth while Vazquez has faltered under the pressure of being the next starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox.
The choice is clear. Without a doubt, Sandy Leon is your opening day starter, and if you are to say any different, then you are just dictating your decision based off of an infatuation with the young stud that we have heard about over the years, rather than actual performance on the diamond.
I still believe that Vazquez has the time to blossom into that catcher that the fans have been waiting for, but time is ticking and that time, if it should arrive, must be sooner rather than later.
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