Many young players will create a buzz in spring training, opening some eyes that may not have been paying attention. Catcher Christian Vazquez did just that last year, showing off his strong and accurate arm, gunning down all five would-be base stealers in his 15 appearances, including one start.
Vazquez, a ninth-round pick by the Red Sox out of Puerto Rico in 2008, threw out 47 percent (47 of 101) of attempted base stealers with Double A Portland last season before earning a promotion to Pawtucket. Overall he hit .287 with a .766 OPS in 97 games.
“Really fun [pitching to Vazquez],” said righthander Anthony Ranaudo, who participated in the Red Sox’ rookie workout, held inside the bubble Friday at Harvard Stadium. “It takes a lot of pressure off when there’s guys on base. He does a great job calling games. I threw to him in 2011 and that was probably the biggest thing I noticed throwing to him in 2013, he calls a great game. And not that he didn’t in 2011, but he’s learned a lot.
“He’s a great receiver and has a great arm. So that’s a huge confident boost when you’re out there and there’s a runner on base, you can really focus on the batter, and the count, and the pitch that you need to execute because he’s going to take care of the runner pretty much all the time.”
Vazquez, 23, will be back at major league camp this spring, where he will work with veterans A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross.
“Christian’s definitely very close,” said Ben Crockett, director of player development. “I think we’re very lucky to be in a position where we’ve got three guys — and potentially four with Blake [Swihart] — at the upper levels that they could help us at the major league level. Obviously [Ryan] Lavarnway was there last year and is the most experienced of that group.
“I think with the two other guys that saw time at Triple A last year, with Vazquez and Butler, I think there wouldn’t be a ton of hesitation to expose any of those guys [to the majors] if the timing was right and the situation was right.”
Vazquez and Swihart took part in the team’s rookie program this week. Swihart, a first-round pick in 2011 out of high school, hit .298 with Single A Salem in 2013 and threw out 41 percent (44 of 106) of attempted base stealers. He is expected to start the 2014 season in Portland. Vazquez will open at Pawtucket.
“They don’t talk a lot about that,” Vazquez said of a potential promotion. “But just to keep working, my defense, my batting, my hitting, all that stuff.”
As he has in the past, Vazquez has been working out with veteran catcher Jose Molina about three times a week this offseason.
“We work on everything,” Vazquez said. “Talking about catching, hitting, working with pitchers, dealing with starting pitchers.”
Vazquez appeared in 33 games for Santurce in the Puerto Rican winter league, where he threw out 17 of 27 (63 percent) of would-be base stealers. While he hit just .206, he was working on his plate approach to inside pitches, he said. Chad Epperson, the Sox’ minor league catching coordinator, is not concerned with the low average. It’s the experience that matters.
“Obviously getting that experience in Triple A is going to help him a lot because you know that you’re going to see a lot more veteran guys in Triple A,” Epperson said. “That whole venue there of really final pieces of breaking down hitters, scouting reports on oppositions, running the games, that is going to be big for him this year.”
Righthanders Matt Barnes, Dalier Hinojosa, and Noe Ramirez, lefthander Henry Owens, and infielders Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, and Travis Shaw also took part in the minicamp. Barnes, Hinojosa, Marrero, Owens, Ramirez, Shaw, Swihart, and infielder Heiker Meneses are all receiving invitations to major league training camp.
Arms in hand
Nine players made their big league debut for the Sox last season, including six pitchers. This season, Ranaudo and Barnes could reach the majors.
“It’s an exciting part of this group in particular and I think where we are with the arms in the system right now,” Crockett said. “Having a group of guys that we’re pretty excited with that at least got their feet wet at the upper levels last year. We feel good about it. There’s a lot of work left to be done with that group. But given the caliber of arms that we have here, I think we’re excited about the progress that can be made this year.”
Hinojosa, who will turn 28 on Feb. 10, joined the Sox in October as a minor league free agent out of Cuba. He has appeared in several international tournaments for the Cuban national team, including the 2011 Baseball World Cup and Pan-American Games, and the 2010 World University Championships and International Cup. Hinojosa, who lives in Miami, was in Fort Myers for a few weeks of instructional league in the fall.
“We haven’t really seen him in games for us,” Crockett said. “But I think, from the scouting side, we’ve seen him with a good fastball, probably in the low- to mid-90s, two different breaking balls, as well as a changeup, and fastball, both four-seam and two-seam.”
Three reach deals
The Sox avoided salary arbitration with three of their four remaining players who were eligible. Outfielder Mike Carp agreed to a $1.4 million deal for 2014, righthander Junichi Tazawa agreed to a $1.275 million contract, and infielder Jonathan Herrera will earn $1.3 million. Friday was the deadline for sides to exchange figures. Lefthander Andrew Miller is the Sox’ only remaining arbitration-eligible player. The sides have exchanged figures: Miller filed for $2.15 million and the Sox for $1.55 million. If a settlement can’t be reached, Miller’s salary would be decided via an arbitration hearing. The last time the Sox went to arbitration was in 2002 with righthander Rolando Arrojo. The Sox won that case . . . As part of the Sox’ initiative to share their championship with fans globally, Tazawa and Koji Uehara, accompanied by Wally the Green Monster, will bring the trophy to Japan Jan. 20-22.