FanPost

Better Know a Prospect: The Vazquez Return Edition

The Red Sox have started to tear apart a team that has seen it's core remain mostly intact for the better part of a decade as Christian Vazquez has been traded to the Astros in exchange for two prospects. Vazquez is the classic he means more to us than he does to you pending UFA trade chip. It was unlikely that Boston was going to pay him the going rate for a good veteran catcher, but seeing him take batting practice knowing he'd been dealt was hard.

That said, there are realities to this business and it's better to get a couple guys for your departing free agent, especially when the hope of making the playoffs seems to be becoming more distant by the day. The Yankees have loaded up, the Jays are rolling since firing Montoya, and the Rays are the Rays. Baltimore seems to have signaled that they are content to ride it out with their young group, letting Mancini go to the Astros as well.

So let's look at who the Sox got back here. Up first Wilyer Abreu.

Physical Profile

Listed at 6 feet flat and about 215, Abreu is maxed out physically at his age. He'll be 24 next year and has really grown into what was once a gangly, limb-y body. This has led to more of his raw power potential getting into games, but it's also impacted his defense. I couldn't find a report that says he's going to be able to stick in CF, and he might not hit enough to justify giving him a corner OF spot. He's a big kid, very athletic and pretty fast for his size, but there is surely some concern around the long term physical shape he stays in.

Tools

Hit: Big hole in his swing on elevated velocity, not dissimilar to Jeter Downs when he got to the upper minors. Holds his hands in a ready position to mitigate some bat speed concerns and does get to low pitches pretty well. Will have to punish those pitches to make it work at the big league level.

Raw power: Big raw power, impacts the baseball with force and authority. My looks at him in high A last year showed a player with the potential to turn any contact into a laser.

Game power: Surprisingly, Abreu has been getting more of his power into games this year. He's running a .210 iso this year after making perhaps the most difficult jump in the minors (from A ball to AA, where the pitching is vastly superior). He's closing in on his homer total from last year as well.

Run: Runs very well, but not a rangy outfielder somehow. He's swiped 23 bags in 24 chances this year, mostly thanks to good instincts. Should be a good, responsible baserunner.

Field: Big question marks here. He came up in centre but won't stick there due to his lack of range. Right now he's hitting enough to keep him in a corner, where his speed will help him some, but the bat is the carrying tool here. From what I've seen, he's a 35/40 type fielder.

The Good

Big time power and has shown promising results as he's progressed through the minors. His walks are up and strikeouts are down from last year. 26% is still a very high k rate, but it's trending in the right direction. He's been downright stoic in the box this year, walking at a 19% clip and getting on base just a point below .400. The combination of patience and power is highly intriguing even with the warts.

The Bad

It's a profile we see a lot of, and power + discipline is hard to translate to big league baseball. It's encouraging that he's done it in AA for nearly a full year now, but he is a 23 year old who has never seen anything beyond AA and he does run high whiff rates. The hole in his swing needs to be addressed, either in the form of a swing change (scary for a power first guy) or in an approach change. The latter seems to be what the Astros were doing, having him pick out his pitch and disregard everything else. That works for the more prodigious bats in baseball, but it may not work for Abreu.

Projections

On the high end, Abreu could be a 25+ homer guy that plays respectable defense in left field for the Sox. On the low end, he's a AAA slugger that can plug into the roster in a pinch. Realistically, he's probably a fourth outfielder type that can provide some DH flexibility when the main guys need a rest. His power is definitely for real, which is encouraging, but it remains to be seen how much of it will get into games long term.

And now onto Emmanuel Valdez!

Physical Profile

Listed with funny dimensions, 5 foot 9 and 191 pounds, Valdez is a your classic stocky guy. That kind of build can mean big pop and good athletic feel, or it can mean guy who never can quite stay in shape. That said, Valdez hasn't had much of an issue with that to this point and he is physically mature so I think we're out of the woods there.

Tools

Hit: This was his carrying tool when Houston signed him, but for years poor discipline and a shitty approach kneecapped what he could do at the plate. Coming into 2020 he was looking like a career farmhand, but after the year long layoff that year Valdez was showing vastly improved strikezone recognition and his numbers jumped. He barely hit his weight in 2019 but in '21 he saw improvements to his average, which stemmed from better pitch selection. He can get his bat to the ball, and while he doesn't have Mookie/Altuve levels of bat speed, it is a short left hand stroke that can turn around velocity.

Raw power: As of today, Valdez power is probably his best tool. A bit shocking for a guy under 5'10" but nonetheless it's been a treat to watch. Short levers and a quicker than average bat make up for the lack of size.

Game power: The change in approach has resulted in a lot more of that pop finding its way into games. Valdez has 47 dingers in his last 794 PA's, which dates back to the start of 2021. That's about 35 homer per 600 PA pace, which I find very encouraging.

Run: Not great. Never going to steal bags at the MLB level, and it affects his defense.

Field: Fringe glove, fringe arm, fringe range. Has been tried at 2B, 3B and lately LF, with mixed results. He'd be able to hang in left, I think, but he'll never be a defensive replacement type guy.

The Good

Big jump in both power and plate discipline numbers, with now a nearly 800 PA track record to support it. I'd wager on him being closer to what he's been post 2020 than pre 2020 and that's mainly because a skill like plate discipline doesn't just appear then vanish. Generally speaking you either are or aren't good at strikezone recognition and Valdez seems like he's developed that skill. The other thing to like is the trend in his k's. Low 20s to high teens can work with his power profile. I can see him giving you 20-25 homers even if the defense and his stature make him a difficult guy to fit in the field.

The Bad

He has to hit and hit a lot to be an everyday big leaguer. He'll have to hit a lot just to be on the 26 man when the time comes and the time is coming. He'll be 24 at the start of next season so there'll be some level of pressure on both he and the organization to see what he'll do against big league pitching. Like I said, I think the last two seasons have been closer to what he will be, but the margins are so thin for a bat first (and kind of bat only) prospect. It's encouraging that he seems to have developed better on base skills, but without the thump he'll be a lesser version of Cavan Biggio — and CB plays really sound defense at two positions. Valdez plays mediocre defense and we're not even sure where we want him to do it.

Projections

Top end, I think he's 25+ homers with a .320 - .330 ish OBP which would justify his bad defense enough to make him an everyday regular. Low end, he doesn't handle big league pitching well enough and he's more like a quad A guy that you plug in for emergencies only. Realistically, I think he skews more toward the former. I can see him as quality utility guy that, with some positioning help, can be a serviceable outfielder when you need him. His bat makes him really intriguing.