The running cliche in sports is that if you have two of something, you have none. Two quarterbacks, two goalies, two of anything usually means the conundrum that surrounds the position reflects the team’s situation.
The Boston Red Sox are the exception to that rule, with two blue-chip catching prospects who look to have lengthy major league careers ahead of them in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Vazquez is already seeing playing time in the bigs, while Swihart is the consensus best catching prospect in baseball and among the best overall prospects.
So what does this mean? It means Ben Cherington is in a unique situation with two big-time catching prospects on his hands. With baseball so short on plus-catching prospects in past years, most GMs would die for one, let alone two. So if Cherington is losing sleep over which backstop he should go with, he’ll find little sympathy from his 29 counterparts.
One catcher (Vazquez) could be Yadier Molina. The other (Swihart) could be Buster Posey. Give a general manager Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and they’d be more than satisfied.
Vazquez got the first crack at the audition with the big club, called up to the Red Sox on July 9 to replace catcher A.J. Pierzynski after he had been designated for assignment after just half a season in Boston.
Since the promotion, the 23-year-old has caught 27 of a possible 37 games, splitting time with backup David Ross, then Dan Butler (his backup at Pawtucket) when Ross went on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis. He’s turned heads on Yawkey Way with his work ethic, preparation and drive to improve.
Vazquez has blown everyone away with his hands. The ability to frame pitches — maybe the hardest task in a catcher’s job description — is the staple of Vazquez’s game. Those who have watched have seen time and time again Vazquez turning balls into strikes through his ability to receive the ball so smoothly behind the plate. He turns 2-1 counts into 1-2 counts and keeps hitters off the basepaths in doing so.
That’s not to say Vazquez’s presence has opened the floodgates on running games around baseball. Of the 16 runners who have attempted steals on Vazquez, he’s gunned down seven — a 44 percent clip.
Vazquez’s strengths were on display Thursday night, where he put on another defensive gem despite the Red Sox being one-hit by the Los Angeles Angels. He picked off Howie Kendrick to end the fifth inning before nearly gunning down Erick Aybar in the eighth after the Angels shortstop had a massive head start thanks to an even bigger lead off the bag.
Meanwhile, there were a number of balls turned into strikes by Vazquez, including a beautiful frame of a Rubby De La Rosa fastball on the outside corner to retire Colin Cowgill on strikes.
As Vazquez continues to catch the attention of many around major league baseball, Swihart is a step away from the game’s highest level in Triple A Pawtucket. Promoted from Double A Portland earlier this month after hitting .300 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs, Swihart has struggled at the plate in 12 games of International League action, hitting .229 with one homer and six RBIs. That’s something that comes as less of a red flag since Swihart has been able to figure it out over time at other levels.
Defensively, Swihart looks just as good as Vazquez, with no passed balls in 2014, throwing out 48 percent of stolen base attempts (30-for-63). In Portland, he handled a staff that was 72-44 at the time of his promotion.
That said, some project Swihart to be moved to another position long-term to preserve his bat, in addition to addressing the concern over ability to physically handle the position as his lower body isn’t as strong as that of Vazquez.
Swihart has been viewed as a potential major piece of a blockbuster deal the Red Sox are expected to make this winter. Many reports suggest the Sox are very high on Vazquez, as a result making his 22-year-old counterpart expendable. Also, Swihart has the bat that many teams currently covet and would give a boatload of value for.
Cherington is pressed with some decisions to make with these two phenomenal young catchers. When he finally makes the ultimate decision, time will tell as to whether or not he was right; but it looks like he can’t go wrong with either guy.