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Positional Breakdowns: Catcher

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A look at the organization’s catching depth

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Over the next eleven days, we are going to take a look at the Red Sox depth chart to break down each position both in the short-term and the long-term. We’ll look at projected starters, bench pieces, depth options, top prospects, sleeper prospects, other prospects, where the starter fits in the division in terms of projected fWAR using FanGraphs’ Depth Chart system and an overall view. Today we start things off with catcher.

Starter

Christian Vázquez

If we look back to where the Red Sox stood at this time last year (or right before the season last year) there was no clear answer as to who was the everyday catcher. Christian Vázquez, Sandy León and Blake Swihart were all to fight for time. Over the course of the season, though, only one really took hold of that opportunity. Vázquez had a legitimate breakout in 2019 and ended up as one of the better catchers in the league. Not only did he continue to show off the plus defense behind the dish that he’s become known for as a professional, but he also broke out at the plate with more power than ever. Some of that was almost certainly due to the juiced ball, but there were adjustments that finally took hold as well. In terms of true-talent it’s probably more fair to think of Vázquez as a 90-95 wRC+ type of hitter, but given his defense behind the plate as well as a little of versatility that can put him in the infield as well, that is an above-average contributor at this position.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bench

Jonathan Lucroy, Kevin Plawecki

This was perhaps setting up to be the most intriguing battle in Red Sox camp as the two veterans were fighting to take the backup catcher job. Ron Roenicke was initially against the idea of carrying three catchers into the season, but was softening that stance shortly before the sport took a pause. Now with the likelihood that rosters will be expanded to 29 players for the first month of play in the event they can get the season going at some point this year, the ability to carry three catchers will be that much easier. Lucroy and Plawecki, for as intriguing as that battle may be, aren’t all that different in terms of overall value. The former has a better track record historically and can play a little bit of first base, but the latter has been better more recently both offensively and defensively. They are likely both something only a bit better than replacement level, which sounds discouraging but is fine for a backup catcher. Most teams aren’t doing too much better than that.

Depth

Juan Centeno, Jett Bandy

What I said at the end of that last section about most teams not doing better is also applicable here, because the duo that is likely to start the year in Pawtucket doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. Centeno was in this role last year for the Red Sox as well. He did hurt his ankle early in spring, but I haven’t heard anything that indicated he’d be still be out whenever the season returns. There’s not much offense with him, but he can handle a pitching staff. The same can be said for Bandy, who spent last year at Triple-A with the Rangers. He last played in the majors in 2018, and in 492 career major-league plate appearances with the Angels and Brewers he has a career 73 wRC+.

Top Prospect

Connor Wong

Talent in the farm system behind the plate was a major weakness for the organization at the start of the offseason, so it’s not too surprising that Chaim Bloom nabbed a catcher in the Mookie Betts trade. That said, I would assume that was more due to it being an organizational strength for the Dodgers than a weakness here because with a trade of that magnitude you are looking for the best talent possible more than you’re worrying about specific positions. Wong is the top prospect here for the Red Sox, but that doesn’t mean he’s a flawless one.

For one thing, he may not be a true catcher, as he’s more likely to fill a utility role who can play behind the plate but also get time at third and second base. Offensively, there is real power potential but he has to shore up the hit tool if it’s going to play consistently. Wong is exciting and should start out at Double-A Portland whenever they start playing baseball again, but there’s still work to do before he can be looked at as a sure future major-league contributor.

Sleeper Prospect

Kole Cottam

Like I said, this is not a very exciting group in the organization. That said, I’ve always been a little intrigued by Cottam. The ceiling isn’t huge here and there are legitimate issues with his defense behind the plate. However, there are reasons to believe that his defensive deficiencies won’t matter as much by the time he’s ready to really make a potential impact in the majors. If robo ump systems do come to fruition, offensive-minded catchers could become much more valuable, and that’s what Cottam is. That is, of course, not to say there’s no work to be done at the plate as he, like Wong, has real improvements to make with his hit tool. If that adjustment does come, though, he could sneak up on some people as a real contributor, even if that is more likely to be off the bench than as a star-caliber player. His next stop should be as the starting catcher in Salem.

Others

  • Jhonny Pereda was just recently acquired from the Cubs to finish the Travis Lakins deal from earlier in the offseason, and he most likely projects as an emergency depth piece with a ceiling of a backup.
  • Roldani Baldwin missed almost all of last year and struggled in 2018, but he got some run in big-league camp and is another power-hitting catcher in the system with questions regarding his hit tool and defense.
  • Jaxx Groshans was the college catcher for fellow prospect Ryan Zeferjahn, and Groshans could be a future big leaguer but is still pretty raw both offensively and defensively.
  • Jonathan Diaz is in a tandem with Groshans and while he was an under-the-radar international signing he’s been solid at every level he’s been to thus far.
  • Naysbel Marcano has yet to make his Stateside debut but he got a solid signing bonus of $350,000 out of Venezuela and in the DSL he had a solid season at the plate while showing the skills to project as an above-average defensive backstop.

AL East Projections

T-1. Christian Vázquez, BOS (2.6 fWAR)

T-1. Gary Sánchez, NYY (2.6 fWAR)

3. Danny Jansen, TOR (1.9 fWAR)

4. Mike Zunino, TB (1.8 fWAR)

5. Chance Sisco, BAL (0.4 fWAR)

This would have seemed crazy just a year ago, but Vázquez is projected to be just as valuable as Sánchez in 2020 in just about the same amount of playing time. Unsurprisingly, the way they get there is different with Sánchez being projected as the better hitter and Vázquez being better defensively, but that would also make one imagine that the latter is safer with the former having more upside. It is worth mentioning, too, that Jansen is projected as roughly the same as them on a per plate appearance basis, though he is likely going to split time almost evenly with Reese McGuire. Jansen was expected to be a strong rookie contributor last year but disappointed and enters a potential 2020 season as a post-hype sleeper. Zunino is an all-or-nothing power hitter whose value is buoyed a bit by strong framing numbers. And Sisco, well, he can hit a little bit at least but his defense doesn’t grade out very well.

Parting Thought

The Red Sox organizational depth chart here is arguably as strong at the very top as it’s been in about a decade (depending on how you felt about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, I suppose) but there is still some work to do in the minors. That said, there are some names to watch, and the system as a whole could benefit by the advent of robo umps.