The legend of Jorge Vazquez and his journey to the Bronx

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2012

Jorge Vazquez has been hitting moonshots for many years. Will he finally get to hit them out of Yankees Stadium? (Photo: Zimbio)

On Friday, the New York Yankees sent Jesus Montero packing. They lost the power and high batting average he was expected to bring. And with an aging lineup, his absence appeared to leave a hole. That might not longer be the case. Jorge Vazquez is beyond ready, waiting for his time to come.

The road he has traveled in an effort to reach the major leagues has been long. It may have come to an end. A 29-year-old native of Mexico, standing a stocky and strong 5’11″, 225 pounds, Vazquez is a living legend and may finally get to show New York what he can do.

He isn’t a household name here in the United States, but he sure is in his home-country. “Everybody down there in Mexico knows Chato,” Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena, who has played with him in winter ball, told The Star Ledger. “Chato” means small and chunky in Spanish, The nickname may be unflattering, but it fits his physique well. And he’s more than “Chato.” There is an incredible amount of strength within his pudgy build. His countrymen can speak to that, too.

“He can hit homers everywhere,” said Pena.

“I like to watch him because he hits a lot of them,” added Yankees pitching prospect Manuel Banuelos.

“He’s a powerful hitter,” chimes in former Yankee and current Boston Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves. “He’s intelligent and he’s still focused. He would be a star in the big leagues, even if he came late in his career.”

What he has accomplished is extraordinary, but he has yet to reach the level Aceves believes he would excel at. He has played first base and third base throughout his career, but has been, and forever will be, blocked at both positions. This is due to the investments the Yankees made in sluggers Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. It’s very unfortunate, as this man might be able to outproduce either as a replacement, if given the opportunity. That big of a role won’t be there, however, but donning pinstripes appears to be in his near future. Considering what he has done to get to this point, that is a very exciting prospect.

What has he done, then? Why does he draw such high praise from Pena, Banuelos, and Aceves? I had never heard of him before Saturday, and after looking at his statistics I was dumbfounded as to how he eluded me. He played eight years in the Mexican League–four for the Mexico City Tigers, two for Angelopolis, and two more for Quintana Roo. It is what he did after Mexico City that makes his story so remarkable. He crushed 33 homers and drove in 96 runs as a 23-year-old in 2005, his first season with Angelopolis. For major leaguers, that kind of production is spread across a 162-game schedule. Some are gifted enough to do that much damage in 140 games. Vazquez did it in 71.

It is easy to think, “Wait, what?” in perplexity upon reading this. It was hard not to be taken aback upon scanning over this statistic on his Baseball Reference page. He had 108 hits in 285 at-bats, equating to a .379 batting average. He got on base at a .413 clip. His OPS (On-Base + Slugging Percentage) was 1.210. To put that in context, Jose Bautista had the highest OPS in the major leagues last year at 1.056. Only nine players in major league history have had an OPS as high as Vazquez did. Vazquez also had only seven less rbi than Bautista in 228 fewer at-bats. He was simply remarkable. And he wasn’t just a one-year wonder.

He had 31 homers and 98 rbi’s in 75 games the following season. Even while battling injuries in 2007 and 2008 with Quintana Roo, he hit 17 homers in 56 games and 18 in 58. He continued to tote a very high batting average, hitting .323 and .339. The Yankees had been keeping a close eye on his incredible production through scout Lee Stigman, who, as the Ledger wrote, “has mined Mexico for big league talent and quickly gave the green light for the signing.”

So off Vazquez went, and he picked up in New York right where he left of in Mexico. He crushed 13 homers and batted .329 in 57 games with Double-A Trenton in 2009, then went 16-41 with the team in 2010 before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

His batting average and on-base percentage dipped severely, but could he ever tear the cover off the ball. He hit 18 more homers in 56 games in 2010 and demolished 32 more this past season in just 110 games. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t work many walks. He is up there to swing and swing hard. If crisp contact is made, just watch and admire.

Banuelos did that many times. One stands out.

Writes the Star Ledger‘s Marc Carig:

“Banuelos remembers watching live on his computer during the Caribbean Series earlier this year when Vazquez won MVP honors with Team Mexico. Against Venezuela, Vazquez drilled a homer that sailed just left of the center-field batter’s eye, over a fence, over another fence, over a few cars and onto the roof of a waiting bus.”

Who knows if Vazquez will play an integral role on the Yankees. He had 166 strikeouts last season. He reached base only 31 percent of the time. New York knows his drawbacks, but they also are fully aware of his lone strength.

“He doesn’t have a position, but he can flat-out rake,” a talent evaluator told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “He just mashes.” If the Yankees give him a chance, fans in major league ballparks better be ready for some souvenirs. He sure is primed to give them out.