As opening day is a little over 3 months away, the Boston Red Sox have a situation on their hands. But when we take a look at it, it is not that bad of a situation. Boston has three catchers that have a chance to start in 2016. Those catchers are Christian Vázquez, Blake Swihart, and Ryan Hanigan. The big question is who will be the winner.
Christian Vázquez became the everyday catcher near the end of the 2014 season. His defensive awareness and cannon for an arm made him known in just the 55 games he played in. People have compared Vázquez’s defensive presence with 8-time Gold Glove winner, Yadier Molina. Besides, they don’t call him “Mini Yadi” for nothing. When the 2015 season was about to begin, pitchers trusted Vázquez and had confidence in him to be the everyday catcher. But just a few weeks before spring training was about to end, Vázquez hurt his elbow and later had Tommy John surgery, ending his 2015 season. We fast-foward to right now where Vázquez is playing Winter ball in his home country, Puerto Rico. He is only limited to batting right now so he can get his swing back. Vázquez has been doing long-toss weekly as well as catching bullpen sessions, but the true test will come in March when he is firing the ball down to 2nd base from home plate. Manager John Farrell hopes that Vázquez is ready for the 2016 opener because if his arm his healthy and back to normal, baserunners will have trouble running on him.
Now Christian Vázquez is a great player to catch pitchers. He will give them confidence with his ability to frame pitches on the corners and make those pitchers know that baserunners will probably not steal on them. But one thing that Vázquez doesn’t have is consistency in offensive production. Granted, in the 55 games he played in his Major League tenure, Vázquez hit .240. Not a terrible batting average for a catcher, but there is a better option. That option is 23 year old, Blake Swihart.
Swihart is entering his second season as a big leaguer and Red Sox Nation is expecting him to be the same offensive weapon he was in 2015. Swihart made his Major League debut back on May 2nd because of injuries in the catching department. In just 84 games played, Swihart hit .274 for the entire season, and .303 after the All-Star break. With Swihart being one of many weapons in the Red Sox line-up, his defense is still a work in progress. His caught stealing percentage was 28%. Not really comparable to Vázquez’s 52% back in 2014. Swihart was also charged with 16 passed balls which was 2nd among all catchers in the Major Leagues. But back in 1998, the Sox had a rookie catcher by the name of Jason Varitek. In just 75 games behind the dish, Varitek was charged with 18 passed balls. People probably thought he wasn’t a defensive catcher. But look what history has to say to those opinions now. A Gold Glove award and being named captain for the Sox from 2005-2011 proved those people wrong. So even though Swihart’s defense is still being worked on, you can’t say his bat was a key contributor to the Red Sox line up that finished fourth in runs scored, 6th in batting average, and 5th in on base percentage last season in all of baseball.
Last but not least you’ve got the ole veteran, Ryan Hanigan. If you were to ask me, I would have to pick Hanigan being the player not making the Opening Day roster if the Red Sox were not going to carry three catchers. Hanigan played in just 54 games last season after he fractured a finger on his throwing hand which lead him to the 60-day DL. Hanigan, who has shown seasons with offensive success in Cincinnati, has died down after disappointing batting averages the past three seasons (.198 in 2013, .218 in 2014, and .247 in 2015). With his bat not being the best, one thing that makes him valuable is his trust with the pitchers. Just like Vázquez, Hanigan creates great relationships with any pitching staff he works with. Catchers like Jason Varitek, Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Salvador Pérez are just a select few that focus on defense production rather than offense because that is what will make their ball club ten times more successful.
So if Santa comes down the chimney next week and gives me the job to be the manager for the Boston Red Sox, I would choose Blake Swihart and Christian Vázquez be on my Opening Day roster. I believe this team is getting younger and the younger the team, the more successful they will be. I understand they need veterans in the clubhouse (which they do with Pedroia, Price, and Ortiz), but Hanigan isn’t the answer for the future. With Swihart showing offensive success already at age 23 and Vázquez hopefully going back to the way he was 2014, you could possibly see a great catching duo for years to come.
Now, if I were to choose who would be in the Opening Day line-up, let’s just wait a couple more months and pray everyone stays healthy throughout the winter and spring.