The Boston Red Sox have had a number of young players like Allen Webster, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rubby De La Rosa make favorable impressions this spring. Most recently, catcher Christian Vazquez is starting to emerge as a top prospect.
Although he is just 22, Vazquez is about to enter his sixth season in the Red Sox organization. He was a ninth-round draft selection in 2008 out of Puerto Rico.
Known earlier in his career as more of a defense-first type of player, he has begun to round out his game and see his stock rise.
In 337 career minor league games, the right-handed hitter has batted a combined .256 with 30 home runs and 183 RBI. He has also thrown out 35 percent of baserunners and reached as high as Double-A this past season.
Vazquez’s best season came in 2011 at Single-A, where he hit .283 with 18 home runs and 84 RBI in 105 games.
Last season, he played in 101 games between High-A and Double A, hitting a combined .254 with seven home runs and 46 RBI. He also led High-A Carolina League by throwing out 42 percent of baserunners.
A squat 5’9”, he is reminiscent of all-time great catcher Ivan Rodriguez. However, the youngster has watched and trained with the Molina brothers (Bayamon, Benji, Jose and Yadier) over the years. "Very good guys. I watched them in winter ball. When I was a kid, I was there watching," he explained to The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham.
Vazquez told MLB.com’s Ian Browne that the primary thing he took away from his time with the Molinas was, “Be quick with your feet and throw to second base as hard as you can.”
He seemingly took that advice to heart with a highlight-worthy play in a recent game, when he made a spectacular throw to nail the Minnesota Twins’ Trevor Plouffe at second on a stolen base attempt, as described by Browne.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that Vazquez’s throw to second was timed between 1.75 and 1.82 seconds, which is considered elite.
Red Sox manager John Farrell told Browne that he’s liked what he has seen from the young catcher this spring:
I will say this: He's a bright-looking prospect behind the plate. He's durable. This is a guy that's really come a long way since he signed out of Puerto Rico. He's really worked his way from a stamina standpoint, overall strength. When his arrival date is here, he's probably a couple injuries away in the short term. In the long term, he's got some development left with the bat, but he's a very good prospect behind the plate.
What type of catching prospect would you rather have?
Despite his need to continue refining his offensive approach, it’s clear that Vazquez has made great strides since starting his career. He has seen his OBP and OPS rise steadily since his first season and his increasing willingness to take a walk (a career-high 48 in 2012) is an excellent sign for a young hitter.
Recently rated by MLB.com as Boston’s 16th-best prospect entering the 2013 season, Vazquez should open the year with Double-A Portland. If he can prove himself capable there, he will be on the threshold of being ready for his major league debut.
Vazquez’s quest to reach the majors could be helped by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway, who are two catchers ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart and more known for their bats than their gloves.
If the Red Sox determine they need to shore up their play behind the plate, the defensive-minded youngster could get the call.
In the meantime, Vazquez will continue to work on his overall game and prepare himself for the next level. If his recent play is any indication, he may not have far to go.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference