Welcome back to our annual positional preview series, in which we take stock of where the Red Sox stand everywhere on the depth chart for each position. At every spot on the diamond, we will look at where Boston stands on the major-league roster while also looking at their top prospects at the position. We will also take compare how the Red Sox look at the position compared to the rest of the division. Today, we kick things off with the catching position.
Fun fact: only one player currently on the Sox 40-man roster — Xander Bogaerts — has spent more time with the club than Vázquez, who’s played eight seasons with the team that drafted him. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Barnes, both entering their ninth seasons in Boston, tied the catcher for second.
Vázquez should be the everyday starter for much of the coming season. He’s the best hitter and defender of the bunch and has been a reliable part of Boston’s everyday lineup for years and that shouldn’t change in 2022. Vázquez has always been known for his defense, but those skills have taken a dive since his debut in 2014. Last year, Vázquez allowed 55 stolen bases — 19 more than his previous single-season high — and saved five defensive runs above average after posting double digit totals twice during his first three years in the majors.
On the offensive side of things, “he only hits clutch home runs” is not just a throw-away Tweet anymore! Vázquez’s walk-off homer in the 13th inning of Game Three of the ALDS against the Rays will live as one of the enduring memories of last season and was one example of his capabilities in the clutch. He was the fourth best Boston hitter by FanGraph’s Clutch metric. He hasn’t hit for the kind of power that you’d want out of that position — just six home runs and 23 doubles in nearly 500 at bats — and struggles mightily against lefties. If you’re looking at areas for improvement, those two items are at the top of the list.
The Plaw Man was a nice luxury to have a back-up catcher. His bat is just as effective against righties as it is against lefties and, while he’s nothing special defensively, Plawecki is just fine enough behind the plate that Alex Cora can mix him in with Vazquez every once in a while if there’s a lefty on the mound — who he hit .310 off of last year — or just to change things up.
He’s only appeared in 88 games for the Red Sox, but they’ve been some of the most productive of his career. Two of the three highest season OPS totals of his career came during the 2020 and 2021 season in Boston. I’d expect them to use Plawecki more often this season. Vázquez is 31 years old, so it’s pretty safe to assume that he’s already the player that he always will be. You know his limitations and Plawecki can somewhat cover for them, at least offensively. He made 173 plate appearances in 2021 and he will likely outpace that total in 2022.
Wong arrived in Boston as prospect filler in the Mookie Betts trade. He made his Major League debut last June after spending a year in the Red Sox’ minor league system. He caught a couple of strong starts from Nathan Eovaldi and collected four hits in 14 plate appearances.
Wong played just 40 games at Double-A and 50 in Triple-A and hit pretty well. He hit 17 home runs combined at both levels, but his slash line was better in Double A — .349/.393/.604 compared to .256/.289/.446 in Worcester. The next step will be proving that he can survive the jump to the next level and put up the same numbers.
Wong is young — just 25 years old — and Worcester will likely be his landing spot when the big league season begins. It’s possible he sees some time in the majors this year, but I think the Red Sox will prioritize everyday reps over anything else.
We give Wong the nod as the top depth piece for the Red Sox largely because he has that experience as the third catcher from last season, but Hernández could take that title eventually. Certainly not a blue chip prospect, there are flaws in Hernández’s game to be sure, but also plenty to like. What’s largely holding him back right now from being a future full-time catcher is his lack of defense, particularly in terms of receiving behind the plate. If/when the automated strike zone is implemented, he’s precisely the type of player who will most benefit. Offensively, he has impressive power and makes a good amount of contact, but he needs to refine his approach and find ways to lay off bad pitches a bit more often to maximize what he can do with the bat.
The Red Sox have something of a glut of bat-first catchers in the high minors, and while you’d prefer a bit more defense there are worse problems to have. Like Hernández, Cottam could benefit from the automated strike zone, though he also doesn’t have arm prowess that his counterpart has. What he does have is an ability to hit. He was not a blue chip prospect coming out of the draft, but all he’s done since entering the organization is hit, and if he keeps doing it consistently at Double-A, where he finished last year and is expected to start 2022, he’ll start to get a bit more shine in this system.
- Nathan Hickey was Boston’s fifth round pick last year and only played in a few games after signing last summer. This season he should spend most of the year at Salem, and he’s yet another catching prospect whose bat is ahead of the glove.
- Jaxx Groshans, the team’s fifth rounder back in 2019, opened some eyes in the first half last season with an explosion at the plate before tailing off just a bit as the year went along. His defense is raw, though there’s probably more of a ceiling their with his athleticism.
- Johanfran Garcia was one of the team’s highest paid signings on this year’s international market, with good potential at the plate.
Catching is in a pretty good place in the American League East, and there is a chance the Orioles actually have the top player in this group. Whether or not Adley Rutschman, who is arguably the best prospect in baseball, will be up long enough to truly be number one here remains to be seen, but he has the talent to do it. Toronto boasts an underrated all-around catcher in Danny Jansen who has improved every year, as well as Alejandro Kirk, who has some defensive questions but can certainly hit. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has Mike Zunino who can frame pitches behind the dish while hitting a ton of homers. The Yankees took a bit of a step back this year, likely improving their defense but with the offense looking much worse. Here’s how I’d rank the projected starters. Note that I’m considering Rutschman for about a half season’s worth of plate appearances.
- Mike Zunino, TB
- Danny Jansen, TOR
- Adley Rutschman, BAL
- Christian Vázquez, BOS
- Ben Rotvedt, NYY