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March 4, 2013 at 6:45 AM

2013 Prospect Previews: Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez

Position: First base
2012 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: Shaw is a very patient hitter, with a well-defined knowledge of his strike zone. A typical at-bat by the left-handed hitter sees him grinding through sequences, methodically working the count to find an offering he can handle. Shaw also sees the spin out of opposing pitchers' hands quickly. This enables him to stay back on the ball and let pitches get deep on him before unleashing his swing. The 22-year-old is a gap-to-gap hitter, capable of driving offerings with lift to his pull side and into left-center field. The raw power grades as about solid-average, with game power that can translate to around 18 home runs at the highest level. Shaw demonstrates an extremely high baseball IQ and a relentless work ethic. The first baseman tirelessly works on his craft, often taking extra infield during batting practice and engaging in his hitting sessions with a purpose. He possesses the type of baseball makeup to maximize his skills to their fullest.

Development Needs: Shaw’s hit tool will be strongly tested in the upper minors. The lefty doesn’t have premium bat speed, which leaves some questions as to how the bat will ultimately translate against high-quality pitching. There’s some work needed to adjust to high velocity fastballs on the inner-third of the plate. Shaw tends to get tied up by these offerings, struggling to get good wood on them due to the length in his swing. It’s going to be very important to improve with this aspect in order to show he can make enough consistent hard contact to maintain acceptable contact rates and not be limited to hitting zones out and over the plate. He’s the type of hitter who will have to prove it at every stop of the way to show he just wasn’t just taking advantage of inexperienced pitching. Shaw also isn’t overly athletic in the field, with both hands and feet that can be on the slow side. He puts in a lot of time, as previously mentioned, to improving his defense, but ultimately there are limitations to his skills. The defense at first base shows about an average ceiling, with work still needed to reach that level.

2013 Outlook: Shaw progressed into Double-A during his first full season as a professional and is slated to return to the level in 2013 to continue polishing his overall game. After going through an adjustment period upon being promoted to Portland, he started to settle in during the last weeks of the 2012 season. How well Shaw can continue to adjust to Double-A pitching, especially as he goes around the league a couple of times, will be the key to further development and progress in 2013. I feel strongly that he has the drive and focus to maximize every ounce of his ability. What still needs fine tuning is how that ability stacks up against the rising competition. I see Shaw’s ceiling as an average regular at the major league level. The bat can fit into the bottom of a first division team’s lineup at full utility. 2013 should be a very good look as to whether the bat is showing it can trend towards that level or it is topping out with the spike in ability of the competition.

Position: Catcher
2012 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: Vazquez has made strong defensive strides over the last couple of seasons, especially with his leadership skills and command of the game. There’s a vast difference from the early stages of his career, when he was extremely rough and rigid overall. The 22-year-old moves well behind the plate, with smooth reactions and quick feet when pouncing on balls. The glove is also very firm when receiving offerings, rarely drifting and typically in the right place to frame pitches. Vazquez stays square to the ball, which helps him control offerings that bounce in the dirt or fire out of his crouch without getting tangled up. The catcher’s arm grades as plus. He shows the potential to control the running game at the major league level and be an asset behind the plate when it comes to handling would be base stealers. Vazquez’s release has been improving rapidly over the last two seasons. Overall, the defense is trending towards being that of an above-average defender at the major league level, and Vazquez is someone who can bring a lot of value to a roster in that area.

Development Needs: Vazquez’s bat is on the light side. The bat speed grades as about average, presently with limited hitting zones against advanced competition. He extends well on balls out and over the plate, but has a tough time staying above the ball against offerings above the thighs. The hands are also inconsistent staying inside of the ball to consistently drive pitches. The hit tool has scouted as fringe-average, with .235-.250 batting averages potentially as a big leaguer. There is some pop in the bat and Vazquez can muscle up on mistakes. He possesses strength and raw power, but home run totals will likely be in the single digits unless there is strong improvement eliminating the present holes in the swing. Vazquez is at the stage defensively where it’s about the finer points of the game. He’ll be tasked with proving he can handle a pitching staff, call games with varying sequencing, and manage the game in the upper levels. The trends have shown that the catcher can continue to progress with these aspects, but there’s work to be done becoming more comfortable and assertive.

2013 Outlook: Vazquez got a taste of Double-A to finish off 2012 and will return to the level to start 2013. The majority of his work during the season will focus on continuing to raise the level of his defensive game. Vazquez’s glove can carry him all the way to the big league level. The more recent improvements have been noticeable, with a high level of polish to the raw skills for a player his age. The next step is to make progress with the areas that come from experience and making mental strides. I’ve seen Vazquez show the aptitude and type of leadership ability needed from a major league catcher. Continuing to bring that to the foreground is big in 2013, and to not take any steps back in this department. The 22-year-old’s bat will also be tested this season. I don’t see huge growth likely in the offensively game, but feel some strides can be made to show he won’t be consistently overmatched as a big leaguer down the line. Vazquez projects as a solid back-up catcher, with the potential to push that towards one who can handle more of a workload given the defense. 2013 is a year to continue to move forward and prove he can get over the hump of entering the upper minors.

Photo Credits: Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez by Dave Letizi

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen