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March 30, 2015 at 12:17 PM

System Restart 2015, Pt. 1: Catchers

With the season approaching, it’s time for the return of the System Restart, our position-by-position preview of who to follow in 2015. First up, the catchers.

Position in a Nutshell: Last year in this space, we used the term “top-heavy,” and the term applies even more now than it did then. The Red Sox have Blake Swihart (pictured, left), the consensus top catching prospect in baseball, targeted for Triple-A, and defensive prodigy Christian Vazquez heads into the regular season as the major league starter at age 24, albeit with a potentially serious injury concern in his throwing arm that has cropped up this spring. But after that, the drop-off is precipitous. While there are a few intriguing players to keep an eye on for the long term, there is little in the way of help that looks to be ready this season.

Burning Questions
What are the Red Sox going to do with both Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart?
Smile frequently and remain patient. Young, talented catchers are a tough find, and the Red Sox are extremely lucky to employ a pair of them. Swihart is a special talent, with an incredibly broad set of skills for a catcher so young, while Vazquez (pictured, right) has the defensive profile of a future Gold Glove winner.

The question with Vazquez is still his bat. Swihart should spend the bulk of 2015 at Pawtucket, which will give Boston—and other teams’ scouts—a long look at Vazquez. Long-term, it seems sensible to forecast one being traded, but there’s no reason to rush. The club will keep both around for as long as it makes sense.

Are we ever going to see Jon Denney again?
The one-word answer here would be “no.” There are no certainties in baseball, and talent is always hard to come by, so there is still some miniscule chance that he gets his head on straight and makes a commitment to baseball. But development is important, both professionally and personally, and Denney’s lack of progress in the latter has stalled the former. He showed up in Fort Myers last year after his initial suspension, and was even in the lineup for a GCL game that was postponed due to rain, only to be sent home a second time.

Who would the Red Sox call up if Vazquez or Ryan Hanigan go down early in the season?
Well, this theoretical question, which we'd planned on answering when we drafted this last week, is no longer theoretical with Vazquez heading to see Dr. James Andrews this week. Boston has traditionally kept four or five catchers on its 40-man roster, but heads into the 2015 season with just three after losing Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler in the offseason. Reports this morning have the Red Sox trading for Nationals catcher Sandy Leon, so he seems to be candidate number one. Humberto Quintero, in major league camp as a non-roster invitee, has appeared in nine games this spring, and has seen 471 games across 11 major league seasons, so that experience seems to give him the edge among others in the system in case of an emergency early in the year, despite his career .234/.267/.327 batting line. The Red Sox also signed Luke Montz early in the offseason, but he has been used almost exclusively as a first baseman in spring training, and a shoulder injury may preclude him from anything but emergency catcher duty.

Who to Watch
Top prospect: Blake Swihart, Projection: Pawtucket
Swihart has made gradual, notable improvement since being taken with the 26th pick in the 2011 draft, and he heads into 2015 as the system’s top prospect in this site’s rankings. Raw behind the plate when he was drafted, he now projects as a future plus defender, with sub-2.0 pop times and strong pitch-framing skills. Swihart also boasts a full tool kit of offensive skills, showing good patience, high contact rates, and a line-drive stroke that produced 13 home runs between Pawtucket and Portland last year. As a catcher, however, he still likely has a full season of development before he is big-league ready. He does not yet have experience calling a game, a skill that takes time to master. 

Stock Rising: Devon Fisher, Projection: Lowell
The Red Sox took Fisher in the 20th round of the 2014 draft and gave him a $300,000 bonus ($200K over slot) to forgo his commitment to the University of Virginia. With a plus arm, he projects to stay at catcher, and his strong build gives him power potential. Fisher’s ability to make consistent contact is a question, but his defensive profile should enable an extended opportunity to put things together at the plate. 

Sleeper: Ben Moore, Projection: Greenville
An outfielder most recently at Alabama, the Red Sox are in the process of converting Moore back to catcher. The 21-year-old held his own behind the plate in his Gulf Coast League debut, then impressed in Fall Instructs. He is still readjusting to catching—he showed the ability, for example, to make the throw down to second during spring training, but in some stretches had trouble getting the ball close to its target. Moore also features an advanced approach at the plate, posting a .408 on-base percentage in his pro debut.  

At a Crossroads: Jordan Weems, Projection: Salem
The lanky Weeks had struggled at the plate since being taken in the third round of the 2011 draft, hitting just .193/.300/.234 in two-and-a-half seasons at Low A Greenville, when after a promotion to Salem at midseason, a switch seemed to flip. In 24 games, he delivered an outstanding .329/.409/.415 line. The beneficiary of a .456 BABIP, Weems will look to show the gains he made in the second half of last season was more than a stroke of good luck. 

On the Radar
Matt Spring, Projection: Portland – The veteran warhorse of the Red Sox system, a real-life Crash Davis, he is likely ticketed for Portland where he will work with a young pitching staff.
Jake Romanski, Projection: Salem – A strong-armed 2013 draftee coming off a solid year at the plate.
Jordan Procyshen, Projection: Greenville - Showed power as an amateur and reached Greenville during his first pro season.
David Sopilka, Projection: Greenville – Venezuelan product has shown skills behind the dish, but must make more contact.
Jhon Nunez, Projection: Gulf Coast League – Played just 16 games in his 2014 stateside debut, but looked strong behind the plate during spring training.
Isaias Lucena, Projection: Gulf Coast League – Another Venezuelan signee, Lucena will make his debut stateside after a solid 2014 campaign in the DSL.
JT Watkins, Projection: Lowell – West Point graduate will rejoin the organization after two years of military service.

Photo Credit: Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez by Kelly O'Connor

James Dunne is a Senior Staff Writer at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesMDunne.