September 3, 2013

On Baseball: Looking back, and forward

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
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."

PETER HISSEY is another high draft pick out of high school (fourth round, 2008), and still looking for a breakout year. In his second year in the Portland outfield, Hissey played in only 68 games because of various injuries.

It seems that every time Hissey was getting hot, he went down. Hissey, 23, ended the season on the disabled list with a strained groin muscle.

"It's been frustrating, putting together good at-bats, then getting injured and having to recover from that," Hissey said.

Hissey has unique off-season plans. He leaves Sunday for Ecuador where he will spend two months teaching English to impoverished children.

RYAN DENT continues our list of one-time prospects drafted out of high school. The infielder who can also play left field, Dent was drafted in the sandwich round in 2007 (four rounds before Will Middlebrooks).

But injuries and performance have held Dent back. He has a combined .242 average in Portland and Pawtucket this year in 72 games. Monday may have been Dent's last in uniform with the Red Sox organization, as he becomes a minor league free agent.

OTHER FREE AGENTS include pitchers Miguel Celestino, Terry Doyle, Rafael Perez, Bobby Lanigan, Eric Niesen and Matt Maloney, catchers Matt Spring and Alberto Rosario, and outfielder Ronald Bermudez.

Celestino provides an interesting dilemma for the Red Sox. He has a lot of upside with a high-90's fastball, but he has not converted that into success (6.13 ERA).

Spring, 28, a back-up catcher who brings experience and leadership to the clubhouse, has twice before signed on with the Red Sox and hopes to do it again.

"I love it here," Spring said, while adding he would still like a chance at Triple-A.

"Boston has been really good to me."

Moving on can always present opportunities. Consider pitcher Caleb Clay (one of those high-round draft picks out of high school), who fizzled out with the Red Sox.

He signed with the Nationals before this season, began in Double-A and finished 5-2 with a 2.49 ERA in Triple-A.

Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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