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November 21, 2014 at 7:30 AM

2014 Graduates in Review: Christian Vazquez

As a special extension of our Top 40 in Review series, are closing this year by featuring the six players who were ranked in the SoxProspects.com Top 10 during the 2014 season and graduated from prospect status.

Peak System Ranking: #5
Graduated: September 12 (#5)
2014 Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox
Final Stats: 201 PA, .240/.308/.309, 9 2B, 1 HR, 19 BB, 33 K (majors)
270 PA, .279/.336/.385, 17 2B, 3 HR, 21 BB, 52 K (minors)


Season in Review: A strong 2013 campaign saw Vazquez’s bat begin to develop in the upper levels of the minors, culminating in a call-up to Triple-A at the end of the season. The Puerto Rico native began 2014 back in Pawtucket and continued his progress with the bat while displaying his trademark defensive mastery, throwing out 40 percent of would-be basestealers. Although Vazquez’s on-base percentage sat at just .313 through the season’s first two months, and he did not hit his first home run until June 6, a strong five-and-a-half-week stretch in which Vazquez batted .314/.376/.467 with three home runs and seven doubles over 29 games from the very end of May into July showed his readiness for his first taste of the big leagues. The 24-year-old got that chance on July 9, when the Red Sox designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and recalled Vazquez.

Vazquez became the club's primary catcher and played in 55 major league games over the season’s final few months, demonstrating why his defense had drawn such praise down in the minors. The catcher threw out 15 of 29 attempted basestealers and pitch framing numbers showed him to already be among the best in the game at stealing strikes. Even though his overall offensive numbers did not stand out, he did show some improvement down the stretch. In the month of September, Vazquez batted .277/.351/.385 in 21 games, making more consistent contact and drawing eight walks compared with 14 strikeouts, putting himself into position as the team's primary catcher entering 2015. - Alex Skillin

Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Coming into the season, the main thing holding Vazquez back was his hitting ability, as his defense was universally praised. Since joining the system, Vazquez has greatly improved at the plate to the point where it is no longer a stretch to project him as an everyday catcher capable of being an average hitter (.255-.274 average) with below-average power (10-14 home runs). The offensive projection might look a little light, but the bar at catcher is very low and Vazquez's defensive ability makes it so even if he hits like he did this past season he is still an extremely valuable player. At the plate, Vazquez has a short, compact swing, strong bat-to-ball skills, and average batspeed. He has a solid approach, but can get caught chasing fastballs up in the zone and good breaking balls down. Vazquez has more gap power than home run power right now, but as he matures it should develop more.

Vazquez’s calling card comes behind the plate, where he has the potential to be one of the best all-around defensive catchers in the game. He has a solid catcher's frame, listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds. He is maxed out physically with a thick lower half that will be able to withstand the rigors of a full season's workload behind the plate. His best attribute is his throwing ability; his arm profiles as elite, consistently popping sub-1.8 second times on throws to second (2.0 is average). He has a quick release and is very accurate with his throws. The other attributes of his defensive game have greatly improved since he joined the system, especially his receiving and game calling. He used to struggle with blocking balls in the dirt, for example allowing 23 passed balls in 2013, but has greatly improved in that area, nearly halving that number in 2014. Vazquez is liable, however, to sometimes cheat on with runners on to get in a better position to throw, leading to an occasional passed ball. Vazquez got a taste of the big leagues this year and put together a respectable line at the plate and showed off his excellent defensive ability. He is set to become the everyday catcher in 2015 with the Red Sox, or at worst someone who catches the majority of the games in a platoon. After that, things could get tricky, with Blake Swihart likely ready for the big leagues as well sometime in very late 2015. - Ian Cundall

Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.

Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor