May 26, 2013

On Baseball: Varitek was in town, with praise for Vazquez

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Catchers jumped into the spotlight at Hadlock Field last week.

click image to enlarge

Christian Vazquez

Press Herald file photo

Matt Spring is shining in limited playing time.

David Ross stopped by for a rehab appearance.

Christian Vazquez, who opened eyes in spring training, is now looking even better.

And even former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek visited, part of his new role as special assistant to the general manager.

Varitek got to take another look at Vazquez and compared him to retired major league All-Star Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.

Nice compliment. Vazquez, 22, is a catch-and-throw whiz. Through Thursday he had thrown out 48 percent of potential base-stealers (22 of 46).

And through Thursday, Vazquez was hitting .298 with an .891 OPS (.412 on-base percentage and .479 slugging average).

If Vazquez keeps this up, he may eventually force his way to Triple-A in another month or so.

Boston's 40-man roster list has an unusually high number of catchers (five) -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ross, Ryan Lavarnway, Vazquez and Dan Butler.

Saltalamacchia, 28, is a free agent after this year and Ross, 36, is in the first of a two-year contract.

Lavarnway and Butler are in Pawtucket (although Lavarnway has played three games with Boston). Lavarnway, 25, seems to be in the Red Sox plans. He can hit (.295 in Pawtucket last year, .313 so far this season).

Once considered a defensive liability, Lavarnway worked his way to being named the best defensive catcher in the International League last season. This year he has thrown out 44 percent of potential base-stealers (7 of 16). Lavarnway has minor league options through next year.

Butler, like Vazquez, is in his first year on the 40-man roster and has minor league options through 2015. Butler, 26, is off to a slow start with the PawSox, batting .188. He has thrown out 27 percent of potential base-stealers (8 of 30).

What is the future? A lot will depend on if the Red Sox re-sign Saltalamacchia. Ross is a veteran backup for at least another year.

Lavarnway could get his chance next season. By 2015 a Lavarnway-Vazquez tandem is certainly a possibility.

 

MATT SPRING does not figure to be in Boston's major league plans, but the Red Sox keep re-signing him to minor league contracts (2013 being his third season). Spring, 28, provides leadership at a key position. The fact that he's batting .306 doesn't hurt.

Married with a 6-month-old son, Spring says he thinks of the future -- in the fall and winter.

"You can't worry about that during the season," Spring said.

 

THIRD BASE IS another position that the Red Sox will be making decisions about at the minor league level.

Portland began the year with "21/2" players at the position -- Michael Almanzar, Kolbrin Vitek and Travis Shaw (who primarily plays first base).

Almanzar, 22, the one-time touted prospect, is off to a hot start (eight home runs/30 RBI), so the Red Sox want to see more of him at third.

That meant a position change for Vitek. He made his debut in left field Wednesday.

"Never played there before," Vitek said before Wednesday's game, breaking in a new glove in the clubhouse.

Vitek, 24, was a first-round draft pick in 2010. He struggled with health last year in Portland (batting .242) and is off to a slow start in 2013 (.196).

Vitek is not the first infielder to move. Tony Thomas also changed positions before the season, moving to the outfield.

Thinning out the third base position in Portland allows for the possibility that Salem third baseman Garrin Cecchini could reach Hadlock this summer.

Cecchini, 22, was a fourth-round pick in 2010 (given the same $1.3 million signing bonus offered to Vitek). He is batting .374 in Salem (with a 1.119 OPS).

(Continued on page 2)

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