Over the next week, we are going to take a journey around the diamond and examine where the Red Sox stand at catcher, in the infield and outfield, and with starters and relievers throughout their organization. For each positional group, we’ll break things down by starter, depth, top prospect, sleeper and other notable prospects. Today, we’re kicking things off by looking at the group of players behind the plate.
For all of the talk Blake Swihart has gotten this spring, Christian Vazquez is still the number one catcher on the roster and it’s not particularly close. He’s always been the best defensive option at every level he’s played, and last year he took a big step forward with the bat. Even if that offensive performance wasn’t entirely sustainable, there appeared to be enough legitimate gains that his bat and glove will combine to make a more than fine regular option behind the plate. As we’ll find out, the Red Sox are a but thin at this position, but they are doing just fine at the very top.
Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, Oscar Hernandez, Dan Butler
Vazquez gives them a good chance at having a very strong starting catcher, and they are in an enviable position of potentially having two strong backups behind him. Sandy Leon is going to be up-and-down at the plate and likely end up below-average, but he’s also going to provide strong and consistent defense with some wild flashes with the bat. Blake Swihart is more of a question and will be doing more than just catching for this Red Sox team, but he has the most upside of anyone at this position, including Vazquez. His defense is the biggest question right now, though the certainty of his offense could be exaggerated at this point given his strong spring. After those three, the Red Sox don’t have great depth at Triple-A, which is another reason they’ll look to keep three catchers. Oscar Hernandez and Dan Butler both have a little MLB experience along with solid defense, though both would likely be liabilities at the plate. If everything goes according to plan, we won’t see either in the majors in 2018.
The Top Prospect
Things thin out drastically and quickly at this position once you get off the major-league roster. Part of that is obviously due to the tragic passing of Daniel Flores at the start of the winter. His passing was tragic for much more than baseball reasons, but he would have been the top prospect at this position by a large margin. As it stands, the only player who could reasonably be referred to as a prospect behind the plate is Roldani Baldwin. The Dominican native just turned 22 last week and spent all of last season in Greenville. He had a solid year at the plate, particularly in the power department, finishing the year hitting .274/.310/.489. There are still some questions about his defense as he wasn’t even a full-time catcher before 2017 — he played some third base at the lower levels. He performed pretty well behind the plate last year, though, while putting up those strong numbers at the plate. Baldwin is one of my favorite breakout candidates on the farm for 2018, but even a breakout doesn’t see him with a massive ceiling. If everything goes right he could end up as a Welington Castillo type, though, and that’s a really solid outcome even if it’s not super exciting.
I gotta say, I really considered just saying no one in this section and calling it a day, but that was boring. You gotta be bold once in a while, ya know? The reality is that the Red Sox don’t really have much to speak of at the catcher position after Baldwin in the minors, but Madden is at least a name to watch. There’s not a strong pedigree here as he was a college senior drafted by the Red Sox in the 24th round in last summer’s draft, and he posted a lackluster .606 OPS in Lowell after being drafted. However, he has strong defensive skills behind the plate and he posted really strong numbers at Mercer where he played his college ball. This is not me saying we should expect big things from Madden in the future, but for someone that literally no one has thought about with this farm system there’s at least some potential here.
- Jake Romanski has been in the organization for a while now and looked like a future third or even backup catcher with strong defense and a bat that looked like it could be solid enough at the highest level. However, he got suspended for PEDs for the second straight season, and I’d guess that his time as an interesting Red Sox minor leaguer is just about done.
- Jordan Procyshen now takes Romanski’s spot as the defensive catcher with maybe a little bit of offensive potential to at least be a backup as a ceiling. Procyshen is going to be splitting time in Portland in the coming year and could move his way up with injuries.
- Austin Rei will be splitting time with Procyshen on the Double-A roster. Rei is a former third round selection for the Red Sox and was a relatively exciting pick at the time, but he hasn’t been able to make good on his potential. There’s some solid defensive skills here but the offense hasn’t shown up as a pro at all and at this point he has a ceiling of a backup.
- Beau Hanna is another 2017 draftee, and if we’re being honest he’s probably more exciting than Madden. The only reason I didn’t put him as the sleeper is because there is virtually no chance he’s actually a catcher, though that’s where he was drafted. Scouts are high on his bat, though, and there is real power potential here for the 19-year-old.
- Jhon Nuñez has the unfortunate circumstance of playing behind Baldwin on Salem’s roster this year, but there’s some major-league potential here. He’s more likely a future third catcher who will bounce around the league, but with some intriguing enough contact skills and a solid defensive base, Nuñez stands out in this weak crop of backstops.