The Red Sox have an unusual dilemma in the form of an unusually talented duo of young catchers. With both Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez – the latter of whom threw to bases for the second time in four days on Friday, according to Peter Abraham – along with veteran Ryan Hanigan, the Red Sox face potentially complicated dynamics, writes Nick Cafardo.
Cafardo notes that veteran pitchers often gravitate towards a defensively superior catcher. Of course, the pitcher-catcher dynamic is just that, suggesting some potential basis for preferences when it comes to batterymates.
Is that the case with any projected member of the Red Sox rotation and any of the team’s three catchers? Here’s a look at how the five anticipated Red Sox starters have fared with each of the catchers on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster:
|Pitcher||Blake Swihart||Ryan Hanigan||Christian Vazquez|
|David Price with:||0 IP||3 IP, 0.00 ERA, .000/.000/.000||0 IP|
|Clay Buchholz with:||0 IP||19 IP, 7.11 ERA, .341/.370/.477||76.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, .219/.291/.335|
|Rick Porcello with:||106.2 IP, 4.47 ERA, .287/.327/.439||39 IP, 4.15 ERA, .263/.320/.417||0 IP|
|Eduardo Rodriguez with:||70.2 IP, 4.08 ERA, .245/.301/.361||44 IP, 3.89 ERA, .293/.349/.454||0 IP|
|Joe Kelly with:||60 IP, 5.10 ERA, .275/.340/.425||70.2 IP, 4.20 ERA, .262/.330/.402||25.1 IP, 2.49 ERA, .207/.307/.276|
Those are all small samples, so not exactly the basis for any firm conclusions. Still, it’s hard to overlook how well Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly performed with Vazquez, or that Kelly’s best work a year ago came with Hanigan behind the plate for seven of the eight starts in his winning streak. Swihart paired well with Eduardo Rodriguez – despite the ERA, hitters posted worse numbers when Rodriguez pitched with Swihart as opposed to Hanigan – that could attest to the trust built in the minors. Porcello posted slightly better marks with Hanigan than Swihart, though the righthander worked well with Swihart down the stretch.
For now, Swihart and Vazquez both represent partially molded clay. There are hints about what kind of players they’ll become, but considerable uncertainty remains. Swihart remains relatively new to catching, his time as a full-time backstop now encompassing just four years – a contrast to the decades spent by Vazquez and Hanigan at the craft. Vazquez, meanwhile, represents a player whose simple swing and contact skills have inspired confidence that he can be at least an adequate offensive catcher.
The Sox’ catching situation has a likely outcome – Swihart the primary catcher with Hanigan as the alternative in the big leagues to open the season, with Vazquez in Pawtucket – but the variables related to the two players’ future paths are considerable, encompassing not just their own skills but also their trade value.
In short, there’s a small degree of uncertainty about how the catching pie will be carved for the Red Sox at the start of 2016, and an enormous amount that is unknown three months, six months, and 12 months into the future. Of all the competitions that can exist in an organization, a prospect-to-prospect tete-a-tete with players whose skill sets do not mirror each other represents about as fascinating a proposition as one can get – and it is for that reason that the Sox’ “catching conundrum” will be examined with some envy in other parts of baseball.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.