September 3, 2013

On Baseball: Looking back, and forward

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - He showed up amid questions about his hitting.

click image to enlarge

Christian Vazquez wasn’t around for his Sea Dogs MVP award – he’s been promoted to Pawtucket.

2013 Press Herald file

Christian Vazquez already has major league-ability as a catcher, but there were concerns about his offense, especially after batting .205 in a short sample of 20 games in Portland last year.

This year, Vazquez batted .289 for the Portland Sea Dogs, along with a .376 on-base percentage. Defensively, he threw out 46 percent of runners trying to steal a base, leading all catchers in the Red Sox organization.

For that, Vazquez was named the Sea Dogs MVP during the team awards, announced for Monday's final game of the season.

Vazquez was not here to receive the award, having been promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after Saturday night's game.

Where will Vazquez be next year? Likely in Pawtucket to begin the year, but who knows after that.

The Red Sox have a surplus of catchers and will need to make some decisions.

First of all, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a free agent after this season.

If the Red Sox re-sign Saltalamacchia and bring back David Ross, whose contract runs through 2014, then Boston would have a logjam in Pawtucket with Vazquez, Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler.

Sounds like a trade will be in the works.

Now if Saltalamacchia signs elsewhere, then things will get interesting.

THE OTHER AWARDS announced Monday included Anthony Ranaudo being named the Pitcher of the Year, catcher Matt Spring named the 10th Man, and reliever Pete Ruiz the Citizen of the Year.

Ranaudo's honor was not unexpected, considering he was also the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year after an 8-4 (2.95 ERA) season, before going to Pawtucket on Aug. 2.

But another pitcher also did well, under the radar. Keith Couch began the year in the bullpen because the surplus of starting talent. Once Brandon Workman was called to Triple-A, Couch became a starter again.

As a starter, Couch was 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA (11-3, 3.47 ERA overall).

Spring was honored for his flexibility (catcher, first base and designated hitter), as well as his leadership role on the team. Ruiz was cited for his several community appearances.

THE NEXT BIG catching prospect will arrive in Portland next April. Blake Swihart, 21, a bonus baby ($2.5-million) from the 2011 draft). Swihart's catching continued to improve (a Carolina League-leading 41-percent caught-stealing percentage) as he batted .298 in Salem.

Also coming from Salem will be second baseman Mookie Betts. He began the year in Greenville (.296). Once he reached Salem on July 9, Betts took off, batting .341 with a .965 OPS (.414 on-base percentage and .561 slugging average).

Betts, 20, was a fifth-round draft pick out of high school in 2011.

INFIELDER DERRIK GIBSON was a second-round draft pick out of high school in 2008 and performed well in the rookie leagues, batting .309 in the Gulf Coast League in '08 and .290 the next year in Lowell.

But Gibson's average has never since reached above .250 -- the average he is batting this year in Portland.

But this year has an asterisk. Once Xander Bogaerts was promoted in early July and Gibson became a regular, he's been batting .289 with a .396 on-base percentage.

"I was a little frustrated, but I got my opportunity," Gibson said.

And the opportunity will continue as Gibson received an invitation to the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League.

"I was a little surprised," Gibson said. "I'm very excited. It's good to know the organization still thinks highly of me."

(Continued on page 2)

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