SARASOTA, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles scored 12 runs Monday, but they didn’t steal a base.
They didn’t try to. Smart Orioles.
Christian Vazquez did the catching for five innings of the Red Sox-Orioles game, and Baltimore did not challenge Vazquez’s arm.
Vazquez, 22, will be in Portland next week, the Sea Dogs’ No. 1 catcher and possibly a prime prospect behind the plate.
“He’s in a good place as far as career path and developmental path,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Monday’s game.
“But he continues to develop as an offensive player …”
In other words, Vazquez’s offense has not caught up with his defense.
But if Vazquez wanted to impress the new Sox manager, he did well Tuesday, going 2-for-3 with a home run and double.
In the second inning, working a 2-1 count, Vazquez clocked a fastball from T.J. McFarland over the left field wall.
In the sixth inning, Vazquez doubled on a gap shot to left-center.
And he needs to improve his hitting?
“I felt good at the plate. Good swings at good pitches,” said Vazquez, who knows there is work to be done.
“My hitting is not in shape. But I’m going to get it.”
Vazquez’s average in 15 major league spring games is only .238 (5 for 21).
But there is another statistic to catch your eye:
Five runners attempted to steal on Vazquez this spring. Five were thrown out. He also picked off a runner.
“The throwing speaks for itself,” Farrell said. “It clearly stands out.”
Vazquez did not stand out among Red Sox fans when the Boston drafted him out of high school in the ninth round in 2008. That’s because Boston drafted two catchers out of college before him – Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz.
Lavarnway is Boston’s No. 3 catcher, already with major league service time. Federowicz, traded to the Dodgers, has made Los Angeles’ major league team out of spring training.
Vazquez, 17 when he was drafted, may actually be ahead of both of them in terms of development — at least defensively.
“He’s really come a long way in a short time,” said Sox catching instructor Chad Epperson . “Each venue he’s goes to, you feel like this will be a challenge for him, and he rises up to it.”
Vazquez attended the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, an accredited high school that offers lots of baseball. After a 90-minute drive from his home in Bayamon, Vazquez practiced baseball for three hours and then attended classes. He would get home around 7 p.m.
“Long days,” he said.
Vazquez worked his way up to advanced Class A Salem at the start of last season. He batted .266, and threw out 42 percent of those trying to steal on him (44 of 105).
He came to Portland for a small sample (20 games) last year, hitting .205. But he made an impression.
“I really enjoyed throwing to him,” pitcher Jeremy Kehrt said. “Calls a good game for a young as he is. He really studies the game.”
Kehrt saw more of Vazquez when both played in the Puerto Rican winter league.
He’s got one of the best arms I’ve ever seen behind the plate,” Kehrt said.
The arm is not only strong, but Vazquez gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately. Between the Sea Dogs and the winter league, Vazquez caught in the Arizona Fall League.
“He absolutely put on a defensive show in the Arizona Fall league,” said former Sea Dogs hitting coach Dave Joppie, who also was in Arizona. “The defensive skills are way above average.”
He looked so good in Arizona, the Red Sox feared he might get taken in the Rule V draft and so protected him by placing him on the 40-man roster.
Boston has a glut of catchers on the 40-man (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross, Lavarnway and Dan Butler), but it still made room for Vazquez.
“The kid has worked really hard and he’s starting to reap the benefits,” Epperson said. “He has hit foot on the gas pedal. He understands that this is not the time to back off.”
Making the 40-man roster is one thing. Sticking around is another. Portland has seen its share of catchers – Dusty Brown, Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito among them – who moved up to the 40-man roster, but were eventually released by the Red Sox.
For Vazquez, the key is hitting.
“Offensively, he has very good hands and he has a quick bat,” said Joppie, the new Pawtucket hitting coach. “There are adjustments that have to be made, the typical things that players experience in Double-A: strike zone management and plate discipline, having a consistent plan and learning how their swing works.”
And if Vazquez’s swing works consistently?
“I think he’s a guy who can play in the major leagues for a very long time, just on his defensive abilities alone,” Joppie said. “But if that bat comes around, he can and will be a frontline major league catcher.”