In this final week before the regular season finally begins, we’ll be taking a look at the organization as a whole by position groups. This will include the starters, the bench players, the immediate depth, the high-level prospects and the low-level prospects. By my arbitrary definition, the high-level prospects include those in Double- or Triple-A, and low-level prospects including everyone else. Today, we’ll look at the catchers.
Much to the dismay of many Red Sox fans, neither of Boston’s two exciting young catchers will get starting duties to start the 2017 season. Instead, that job will go to Sandy Leon, who shockingly lit the world on fire during the summer of 2016. By now, most of you know where I stand on this. If you don’t, the quick summary is that I’m something of a believer in Leon. That’s not to say I think he’s an All-Star caliber player or anything close to it, but I think he can be around a league-average hitter among catchers. Whether or not that’s enough to keep him in this role all year remains to be seen, but the potential for it — among other contextual issues like minor-league options — give him the role to start the year. Of course, don’t expect this to be a Salvador Perez-like playing time split for Leon. The Red Sox are expected to split playing time pretty evenly between whichever two catchers are on their roster at any given moment. I haven’t seen an exact estimate given by Boston brass, but my guess would be something close to a 60/40 split.
If everything else was equal, I suspect Blake Swihart would have this job, particularly after his hot spring. Everything else isn’t equal, though, as Vazquez is out of minor-league options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he didn’t make the major-league roster. Given his immense talent on the defensive side of things, he’d certainly be claimed. It’s because of that glove the Red Sox will have no problem giving him playing time this season. I am among those that don’t really believe the bat will ever come along in a major way, but he’s so good behind the plate that it won’t matter much. He checks all the boxes, as he’s an elite framer, pitchers love throwing to him and he has a cannon for an arm. That last part was a minor concern with Vazquez recently coming off Tommy John and the arm strength not looking quite as elite last year, but he’s looked like his old self this spring. Having someone with this skillset on the bench is a huge boon for the Red Sox.
The Immediate Depth
Just like most teams would love to have someone with Vazquez’ defensive talent on the bench, most teams would kill to have someone with Swihart’s overall talent in the minors. Let’s be clear about this: Swihart is not your typical third catcher. He’s already exhausted his prospect status, but that he is still in the minors does not suggest that he is a bust. He’s still shown plenty of flashes of talent, and he’s only in Pawtucket because he’s the only catcher on the roster who can play there without being exposed to waivers. The bat has the potential to be well above-average at the position and is expected to be his calling card. Beyond that, he’s incredibly athletic for a catcher and can provide some sneaky value on the base paths without stealing bases. His defensive could use a little bit of work, but it’s not nearly as bad as the team’s treatment of him last year would suggest. Assuming he plays well at Triple-A — which someone with his talent-level and experience should — he’ll get his chance to shine at some point in 2017. Hopefully, that’s with the Red Sox.
The High-Level Prospects
I almost left this section blank, because the Red Sox don’t have a ton of minor-league talent at this position beyond Swihart. However, that would’ve been lame so let’s talk a little bit about Sea Dogs’ projected starter Jordan Procyshen. That name may sound familiar to you since the young backstop spent some time in major-league camp this spring. The bad news is he won’t provide much with the bat. He has no power to speak of and isn’t really projected to add any to his game. The hit tool is his best hope, and he showed it off a little bit in Greenville with a .287 batting average. That disappeared in High-A, though, and scouts don’t really believe it will ever reappear in a meaningful way. On a more positive note, he has shown an ability to avoid strikeouts and draw a decent amount of walks in the minors. On an even more positive note, Procyshen is a strong defensive catcher. Not exactly to the extent of someone like Vazquez, but he’s strong in all areas of defense.
The Low-Level Prospects
If the Red Sox have some hope for a decent catching prospect in the near future, Rei is the guy to look out for. He was a third round pick in the 2015 draft, and was viewed as a steal by some. That spring he was seen as a potential first-day selection but he missed most of his senior year at Washington to an injury and that pushed him back in the draft. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really come to fruition at the professional level. I saw him a few times in 2015 when he was placed in Lowell, and he looked overmatched both offensively and defensively. It’s entirely possible that was due to that thumb injury still bothering him, though he denies that being the case. Either way, things reportedly looked a bit better in Greenville, particularly on defense. He’s someone I’d look at as a potential deep sleeper in this farm system, but the most realistic career outcome for Rei is as a third catcher.