By: Alex Reimold
Houston, we have a good problem. Competition at the catcher spot. Over the course of this spring training, one thing we’ve observed is the exciting position battle between Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon. Vazquez is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is trying to prove he’s fully recovered and ready to start hosing runners. On the other hand, Sandy Leon is looking to come back this season and produce similar numbers last year, hitting .310 with 7 longballs. Either way both guys have a lot to prove and looked amped to prove themselves in Spring Training, and hopefully that will carry into the regular season. However, the question must be asked, who will get the starting job, and who should get the starting job?
If you’ve ever listened to the superior 12-34 Podcast, hosted by Jake Perda and myself, then you’ll know that the two of us are probably the biggest Christian Vazquez fans on the face of this planet. If you don’t believe me, listen to the podcast or check out Perda’s twitter (@soxreflections) and you’ll notice the pro-Vazquez tweets. Anyway, there’s no doubt in my mind that Christian Vazquez should be the starting catcher in Boston. No disrespect to Sandy Leon, but Vazquez is a better catcher and here’s why.
Sitting back behind the plate, the stocky 5’9” 200 pound body of Vazquez just looks like a stud. Then he pop up from that crouch and guns out every runner with that rocket arm of his. Speaking from an analytical standpoint, his quick feet and fast release blend perfectly with his healthy cannon to allow for him to give the Sox the best chance to get runners out. Also, Vazquez is known for stealing strikes with that magnificent frame, in my opinion the best in all of Baseball. The strength of his forearm allows him to keep his elbow tender and free, then firm when the ball hits the mitt. This will give Chris Sale the ability to get that outside strike, which otherwise might not be called with a lesser frame. Lastly, Vazquez has a unique feel for the game, and knows how to call pitches as good as anyone. His mental game is just as important as the physical intangibles that combine to make Vazquez such a great defensive catcher. However, the concerns about Vazquez come from the offensive standpoint.
Obviously philosophies differ about the catcher's role in the lineup, some people believe that a catcher should have to be a hitter for average while others believe hitting for catchers doesn't matter. Personally, I feel that a catcher should be able to hit about .250, but be the best team contributor. Essentially, they should be able to bunt guys over, hit the ball to the right side with a guy on second, and hit sacrifice flies. Christian Vazquez undoubtedly fits this role in that he’s a great contributor and maintains a passion for winning. It’s a safe bet with Vazquez; we know that we’ll see a few homers here and there, he’ll move guys around the bases, and he’ll be a defensive stud and a leader.
On the other hand, Sandy Leon is coming off a hot 2016 season, in which he hit .310 at the big league level. I don’t think that he’ll be able to repeat the same numbers as last year, but surely he is a good hitter that can easily hit in the .280-.300 range. He’s got decent power and could hit for 15 dingers in a season. The most important aspect to Sandy Leon’s game is the fact that he can heat up at any time, and when he heats up it’s a scary sight for pitchers. Also, I think Sandy Leon’s defensive ability is often overlooked due to Vasquez. The bottom line is that Leon plays good defense in that last year he caught 14 out of 20 guys stealing, and only allowed 7 passed balls. His arm isn’t as live as Vazquez, but Leon can still be a factor on defense. Therefore, if he can hit with the same gusto as last season, things are looking up for Sandy Leon.
Even though Vazquez should be awarded the starting job, it looks like Leon is going to get the nod. “You gotta go with the hot guy,” and until he cools off he will be the starting catcher on opening day. That being said, no chance he’s the everyday catcher. Vazquez is too good to not be played, which is why I think that we’ll see a platoon between the two (Sandy playing 60% of games, Vazquez playing 40%). This is actually a good scenario because obviously if one guy gets hot then playing time can be adjusted and Vazquez won’t be overworked right away after a full season off. Therefore, this position battle looks to continue into the regular season, and how it will play out is up to each guy.