Many prospects don’t get a chance to get their first taste of the big leagues until September call-ups, when their playing time is limited thanks to the sheer number of players on the roster and, often, the importance of the games played if the team is in the playoff race. But the Red Sox‘ otherwise awful season has presented the team with some unusual opportunities, such as a chance to get prospects like Christian Vazquez some consistent playing time at the major league level in the midst of the regular season.
Manager John Farrell sees value in exposing someone like Vazquez to starts on a regular basis before September call-ups.
“I firmly believe that April through August is your typical and normal regular season,” Farrell said. “You’ve got 25 guys that you can’t mix and match to always get the right matchup. You’re part of a team that, in many cases, is contending or hoping to, so you’re exposed. It’s more of an accurate evaluation of what a player is capable of.”
In his particular case, Vazquez has seen an increase in playing time over the past month or so with the Red Sox than he had experienced even in Triple-A. With the injury to David Ross, Vazquez has started 12 of the last 15 games for the Sox, a workload that had been unavailable with the PawSox due to the logjam of catchers that included Dan Buter and, at times, Ryan Lavarnway and Matt Spring, with Blake Swihart now up in Triple-A while Vazquez and Butler handle the catching duties at the major league level.
“If the increased number of games played consecutively has been an increase over Pawtucket because of the three catchers there, he hasn’t shown any endurance issues, even catching 19 innings one night…he was dog tired afterwards but he’s handled the workload very well,” Farrell said.
The exposure has allowed the Red Sox to take stock of what they have in Vazquez, who has seemingly acclimated quickly and found success both offensively and defensively with the Red Sox. The extended stay in the majors has allowed Vazquez to work on his game-calling abilities and his capacity to handle the pitching staff.
“I think there’s been some times when he’s asked really good questions in between innings. We have a system in place if he needs some help from the dugout, and that’s been used from time to time,” Farrell said of Vazquez’s progress behind the plate. “He throws himself at this 100 percent, and that doesn’t mean he’s trying to overload himself with information, but there’s a feel behind the plate, there’s a feel for what the strengths of an individual pitcher are on a given day. I go back to the game he caught with [Allen] Webster in Anaheim [on August 8] that was a prime example of that, where if there were some inconsistencies with the fastball he’d go to the slider to get him back in the strike zone.
“I think he comes to us with some good self-confidence. The energy he shows is an outward display of that. Guys on the mound completely trust him, the way he blocks balls the way he calls games…there’s been some learning moments along the way but he’s come to us with a lot of self-confidence and belief in his ability to not only receive but reading swings and making proper pitch selection.”
While Vazquez’s prowess behind the plate has been well-documented through his minor league career, the Red Sox have also had the opportunity to see what the 23-year-old can do on the offensive side of the ball. Overall on the season, the catcher is hitting .244/.301/.305 through 95 plate appearances.
“I think he’s handled pitches on the outside part of the plate extremely well for a young hitter. He’s got some understanding of situational hitting, and I think because his swing is built to handle the ball away, he hasn’t been exposed on breaking balls off the plate away,” Farrell said. “He’s got a pretty clear, defined strike zone and the bat stays in the zone. His work offensively is one that you’d say it’s going to play here. To what level remains to be seen, but he’s handled himself fine.”