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Jarrod Saltalamacchia and all the syllables in his last name are off to Miami. His replacement is AJ Pierzynski, and while he does not have nearly as many syllables, he does well for himself. Pierzynski is expected to get the bulk of the playing time and World Series hero David Ross will have his chances as well. This veteran tandem should serve the Red Sox well in 2014, giving them roughly the same production from catcher as last year. Beyond 2014 is a different story as Pierzynski (37) and Ross (37 in March) are merely serving as a stopgap to two young and exciting Red Sox prospects: Blake Swihart and Christian Vasquez.
Swihart (21) is expected to start 2014 in Double-A and should be considered the better all-around player of the two catching prospects. While he has yet to play above High Single-A, Swihart has shown patience at the plate and posted a .298/.366/.428 in 103 games last year. One of the most exciting things about the switch hitting catcher is his athleticism. Most catchers are very stationary behind the plate and could be described as “plodders”. Swihart on the other hand is described as having “excellent reflexes,” “quick feet,” and the ability to move well laterally. These attributes should make Swihart an exciting option behind the plate as he brings athleticism to a position that often lacks it.
Naturally not everything with Swihart is perfect. His lack of size (6’1″ 175 pounds) could become a problem behind the plate, but as he matures as a player he may bulk up a bit more without losing too much of his athleticism. With his inexperience, do not expect to see Swihart at the Major League level in 2014. There is an outside chance he may be given a cup of coffee as a September call-up, but otherwise his 2014 ceiling looks to be Triple-A.
Vasquez (22) should begin next year at Triple-A and is a defensive whiz behind the plate. There is a term used by scouts for catchers called “pop to pop” time which measure how quickly they throw to second base. The timer starts when the ball hits the catcher’s glove and ends when it is caught at second base. An average Major League time is 2.0 seconds. Christian Vasquez is consistently clocked at under 1.9 seconds. This may not seem like much, but tenths of a second can be the difference between a stolen base and an out. In his scouting report he is described as a “plus defensive catcher with a strong, wide frame and solid agility behind the plate.”
While most of his value comes from his defensive prowess, he has made some strides with the bat as well. Last year he walked (48) more than he struck out (44) and had a solid OBP at .375. Vasquez’s glove will always be valued above his bat, but any strides he makes offensively will be seen as a bonus. If either Ross or Pierzynski get injured this year it would not be surprising to see Vasquez come up and get some time behind the plate.
Both players are at Major League camp this spring and are looking to make an impact. What is important for both is that they continue to improve by honing their strengths and working towards minimizing their weaknesses. There is no question that they both have the tools to be a everyday starting catcher at the Major League level, but whether or not they fulfill that potential is up to them.