We have reached the week where baseball is getting underway, which is surprising to me that we have gotten that far. But behind my skepticism that this season will work along with my moral questioning of whether an attempt should even be made, there is genuine excitement to see baseball on my TV again. It will be different, but ultimately it is still baseball with Red Sox players. And with that, it means we must be re-introduced to the Red Sox roster after a long hiatus. That’s what this position preview series is for. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers, ultimately covering everyone on the 60-man player pool. Today, we kick things off with the men behind the plate.
There is no battle as to who will be playing most of the time behind the plate. Christian Vázquez had been teetering on the line of whether or not he was really an everyday catcher for a few years, but in 2019 he grabbed that role and doesn’t look like he wants to let go. At the very least, the Red Sox know they are getting strong defense all across the board with him. His framing is well above-average, his arm is back after recovering from Tommy John, and he’s an extremely smart catcher, both in how he communicates with pitchers, calls games and also in controlling the running game even without his arm. For no position is defensive value more important than catcher, and Vázquez has that part covered.
The offense is a bit more of a question, but we saw more reasons for optimism than ever last year. This is a position where we typically see later breakouts, and that’s exactly what 2019 was for Vázquez. He was certainly aided by the golf ball that was being thrown out there as a baseball last season, but his power explosion was also due to a new approach that saw many, many more balls hit in the air. There is likely some regression coming at the plate from his 102 wRC+ in 2019, but even if he settles in with a mark in the 95 range, with his defense that is a very, very good player to have on your side.
Kevin Plawecki, Jonathan Lucroy
It seems likely the Red Sox are going to carry a pair of catchers on their bench to start their season. Remember, for the first two weeks of the year teams can carry 30 players on their roster. What will be interesting to see is how things break down playing time wise, both in terms of simply how much each play and where they play. It seems notable that in these intrasquad games it has seemed Plawecki has gotten starts behind the plate with Lucroy at DH.
It makes some sense since there is an idea that Lucroy is the better hitter with Plawecki being the better defensive backstop. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re looking for in a backup catcher. My opinion is still that Plawecki is the better option, but it is extremely close. I think it’s reasonable to prefer Plawecki as a backup given his defensive prowess but Lucroy’s offensive upside — which, for whatever it’s worth, I think is a bit overstated — could be more aggressive in the event Vázquez goes down with an injury and you want a new everyday player. This was a battle back in March, and it seems like the battle between Plawecki and Lucroy will extend into the season until the roster shrinks to a point where carrying both just is no longer tenable.
Centeno came back to the Red Sox for another year as some Triple-A depth. Obviously there’s no Triple-A this year, but the concept is the same. He is a solid defensive catcher with MLB experience, and that’s enough to make him valuable emergency depth.
Bandy is a similar type of player to Centeno. A former Brewer, Bandy spent last season in Triple-A with the Rangers but his contact issues limit his ceiling at the plate and he is another defense-oriented player.
This is the most exciting player on the “taxi squad” by far. It’s not clear what kind of chance Wong has of actually playing this year, but the former Dodger prospect who came over in the Mookie Betts trade is certainly a name to watch. He has contact issues of his own, but pairs it with big power and just hard contact in general. Wong also has the added benefit of being able to move around and play some infield positions as well.
One of the most recent additions to the player pool, Pereda is a former Cubs minor leaguer who came over as the player to be named later in the Travis Lakins deal from last winter. He’s been a solid hitter the last couple of years with a low strikeout rate and high walk rate, but there’s not much power to speak of. He hasn’t played above Double-A yet in his career.