The future behind the plate

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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What do y'all think the catching situation will look like?  I've been wondering this, both short term and long term.  It's obvious that Vazquez and Hanigan are the 25 man catchers for next season, but how will playing time be given out?  I'm imagining a pretty equal 50/50 split to start the season and then seeing who is excelling slowly picking up more starts unless certain pitchers click with certain catchers....  there's no notable offensive splits for either guy and no starter really has much of a history with either catcher so I imagine pitcher/catcher pairings will be tested in spring training.
Then there's the long term:  Swihart.  As it looks right now, he'll be coming in and taking over at least Hanigan's spot... but if he's as good as advertised, The Sox will want to get him into as many games as possible.... but then is Vazquez really going to be employed in 1 game per 5?  Seems like a waste of talent.  But... I can imagine 2016 being close to a 50/50 split between them to see if Swihart is the real deal.
For the long term, (and IF Swihart is, in fact, the so-called real deal) I'm imagining the Sox employing the DH spot post-Ortiz as a revolving position to keep bats in the lineup.  With starting 2.5 games per rotation behind the dish and 1.5 games at DH per rotation, and another at 1st once in a while to give future 1B Sandoval an occasion break).
 
Whew.   What say ye smarter posters of SoSH?
 

grimshaw

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The last time I remember a 50/50 or time share split was Varitek/Hatteberg.  Scott had more pop and was at least a perceived better offensive player at first.  Then we all know what happened.
 
Assuming Swihart is 80% of what is projected offensively (Buster Posey-lite) and Vazquez stays the same, Swihart is going to get 3 out 4 games at the dish.
If Swihart is the real deal, he's in the lineup every day.  He'll DH or play 1B when he isn't catching and Vazquez will probably get more like 30% of the starts.
The latter would be the dream scenario and one in which the Red Sox get tons of phone calls.
 
Worst case is that Swihart is a flop or gets injured.  I think most of us are fine with Vazquez given how well the offense is expected to perform.
 

Lose Remerswaal

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If Swihart is "all that" at the plate, you won't be able to keep Vazquez on the bench, playing 1-2 games/week.  It would be bad for his development, bad for his head, and bad in terms of the number of rumors of him leaving.  It's like if the Pats had tried to keep Cassel as a backup to Tom Brady!*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*not really
 

semsox

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I'm with Lose on this one. If Swihart and Vaz both reach something resembling their ceilings, the front office will have to move one of them. It will simply be a poor use of resources to not move one, as either of them would net a fairly large return (how many above-average, cost-controlled, everyday catchers are there?).
 

TomRicardo

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Lose Remerswaal said:
If Swihart is "all that" at the plate, you won't be able to keep Vazquez on the bench, playing 1-2 games/week.  It would be bad for his development, bad for his head, and bad in terms of the number of rumors of him leaving.  It's like if the Pats had tried to keep Cassel as a backup to Tom Brady!*
 
 
 
If/when Swihart takes over, Vazquez will be past the point where you worry about his development.  Also he has about six years of team control left. Unless he plans to retire from the game because he was made the back up, I don't think you have to worry about him wanting to leave for a better part of a decade.
 
Vazquez right now looks like a borderline starter / great bench catcher.  His bat is not impressive but he catches an excellent game.  His bat could become better and you can certainly carry him as a starter if you had to because of his defense but Swihart looks like a much better all around catcher.  I think Vasquez lies somewhere in the JBJ spectrum.  I think in 2016 both JBJ and Vazquez will be bench players for the Sox though I can see Vazquez being moved for a pitcher.
 

grimshaw

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TomRicardo said:
 
If/when Swihart takes over, Vazquez will be past the point where you worry about his development.  Also he has about six years of team control left. Unless he plans to retire from the game because he was made the back up, I don't think you have to worry about him wanting to leave for a better part of a decade.
 
Vazquez right now looks like a borderline starter / great bench catcher.  His bat is not impressive but he catches an excellent game.  His bat could become better and you can certainly carry him as a starter if you had to because of his defense but Swihart looks like a much better all around catcher.  I think Vasquez lies somewhere in the JBJ spectrum.  I think in 2016 both JBJ and Vazquez will be bench players for the Sox though I can see Vazquez being moved for a pitcher.
I'm with you on not worrying about Vazquez' development and keeping him as long as possible, but I think his upside is Salvador Perez who put up a wRC+ of 92 and .286/.403/.689 OPS last season and was the best defensive catcher in at least the AL.  That was a 3 WAR player last year and 6th best at catcher.  Steamer has Vazquez at 1.9WAR in a time share jumping up to .680 OPS and closer to a league average catcher bat. 
 
That's why I'm hoping Swihart's bat develops to the point he can split time at catcher and play 1B/DH in the other games.
 
Edit: spelling
 

nvalvo

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grimshaw said:
I'm with you on not worrying about Vasquez' development and keeping him as long as possible, but I think his upside is Salvatore Perez who put up a wRC+ of 92 and .286/.403/.689 OPS last season and was the best defensive catcher in at least the AL.  That was a 3 WAR player last year and 6th best at catcher.  Steamer has Vasquez at 1.9WAR in a time share jumping up to .680 OPS and closer to a league average catcher bat. 
 
That's why I'm hoping Swihart's bat develops to the point he can split time at catcher and play 1B/DH in the other games.
 
Perez and Vazquez have pretty different skillsets, actually.
 
Perez is not impressive as a framer (although not quite Saltalamacchia bad), but a good thrower (33 CS%) and reputed to be a good game-caller. He hits for average and massive power when he gets ahold of one, but has a ton of swing and miss in his game, and not much patience (3.3 PPA). Still, he's a good player, and that contract is unbelievably team friendly. 
 
Vaz is different on both sides of the plate. He's an elite framer and thrower (50 CS%), but has a much more modest contact, patience (4 PPA), and the occasional XBH offensive profile. 
 
Perez walked 22 times last season in 600+ PA; Vazquez walked 19 times in 200. 
 

Sausage in Section 17

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I guess I'm biased after what I saw of Vazquez last year, but I feel his defensive skills, at that position, are a premium asset to a team, such that removing him for offense better mean that offense is going to be BIG.

Catcher is such a critical position, and since defense isn't really streaky, you get more leaving Vazquez back there most of the time, and maybe finding 2-3 other weekly spots to keep a strong bat like Swihart in the lineup.

We've had, and will have strong hitters. I've never seen a Red Sox catcher on defense as good as Vazquez.
 

Rasputin

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semsox said:
I'm with Lose on this one. If Swihart and Vaz both reach something resembling their ceilings, the front office will have to move one of them. It will simply be a poor use of resources to not move one, as either of them would net a fairly large return (how many above-average, cost-controlled, everyday catchers are there?).
 
I reject this assertion. If there's a need somewhere, sure, they're a prime asset, but if you can have a backup that could be a starter and you don't have any glaring needs, well, keeping the two of them is just fine by me.
 
They split time at catcher, Swihart plays some first, maybe some third, everyone gets lots of playing time, their careers get nice and long, we win the world series so often it's boring.
 

PrometheusWakefield

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Sausage in Section 17 said:
I guess I'm biased after what I saw of Vazquez last year, but I feel his defensive skills, at that position, are a premium asset to a team, such that removing him for offense better mean that offense is going to be BIG.

Catcher is such a critical position, and since defense isn't really streaky, you get more leaving Vazquez back there most of the time, and maybe finding 2-3 other weekly spots to keep a strong bat like Swihart in the lineup.

We've had, and will have strong hitters. I've never seen a Red Sox catcher on defense as good as Vazquez.
I'm more inclined towards this view. And lets keep in mind the potential scale of the pitch framing issue. Vazquez was worth 12.2 runs on framing alone in 55 games last year. Extrapolate that out to 140 games and it's +31 runs, before you add in the impact on the running game and the like.
 
If we assume that Swihart is an average pitch framer and an average defensive catcher overall, he'd have to hit like Posey to get to that level of performance (Posey was at +26.8 last year, 34 runs better than Vazquez at -7). And if he can hit like Posey, maybe he should be our future first baseman. Or maybe this is a place of depth where the best way to get maximize the value of both players is through a trade. 
 

ALiveH

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Where is all the optimism coming from on offense with Swihart?  I just don't see it his minor league career OPS is 0.100 less than Betts or Bogaerts and he was 1-2 years older at every level than them.  Comparing him to Posey - Posey's minor league OPS was about full 0.200 better than Swihart and he was the same age at every level..  I know stats don't always tell the whole story for minor leaguers, but I just don't see what people are basing his prospect hype on.
 
Or is the argument just that he is a much better prospect relative to Vazquez?  Swihart's minor league OPS is 0.032 better than Vazquez and both were basically the same age at every level.  So, Swihart has been slightly better offensively & his defense is supposed to be great, but Vazquez' defense is probably a full notch better.  So, maybe it's a wash & Vazquez is just slightly more proven on the MLB level (he wasn't a total black hole on offense in SSS).
 

grimshaw

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nvalvo said:
 
Perez and Vazquez have pretty different skillsets, actually.
 
Perez is not impressive as a framer (although not quite Saltalamacchia bad), but a good thrower (33 CS%) and reputed to be a good game-caller. He hits for average and massive power when he gets ahold of one, but has a ton of swing and miss in his game, and not much patience (3.3 PPA). Still, he's a good player, and that contract is unbelievably team friendly. 
 
Vaz is different on both sides of the plate. He's an elite framer and thrower (50 CS%), but has a much more modest contact, patience (4 PPA), and the occasional XBH offensive profile. 
 
Perez walked 22 times last season in 600+ PA; Vazquez walked 19 times in 200. 
Interesting breakdown.
Looking more closely at Salvador - his wRC+ has gone down each year incrementally from 126 down to 92.
He's seeing a lot fewer fastballs (61% to 49% from sss 2011 to 2014) and more of stuff that bends out of the strike zone (24% to30%) and it has hurt his average and obp.  Wondering if that trend will continue if he keeps hacking.
 
Vazquez probably has more room to grow offensively (Steamer has his slugging up to .380 from .305) because of his more patient approach, and he was on pace to be worth more defensive runs saved (7.8 in 55 games to Salvador's 16.6 in 150). 
 
Either way, the future is bright.
 

Snodgrass'Muff

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Last year there were only 9 catchers in all of baseball who qualified for the batting title. They were Lucroy (153 games, 133 wRC+), Perez (150 games, 92 wRC+), Posey (147 games, 144 wRC+), McCann (140 games, 92 wRC+), Navarro (139 games, 98 wRC+), Montero (139 games, 90 wRC+), Gomes (135 games, 121 wRC+), Suzuku (131 games, 107 wRC+), Castro (126 games, 84 wRC+). Swihart played in 110 games with a 131 wRC+ in AA over 92 games, and a 77 in AAA over 18.
 
If Swihart is what he's projected to be (Posey-lite) he'd probably end up in the 120-130 wRC+ range which would have made him the third or fourth most valuable catcher in the majors last year. You get him on the field as much as possible and worry about Vazquez later. Maybe they get cute with late inning defensive replacements, having Vazquez sub in for someone they can move Swihart over to cover. For instance, if they end up with Craig as a long term first baseman they can move Swihart to first in the 8th inning of a close game to get Vazquez in behind the dish. Or maybe Swihart can cover third in a few years if Panda's defense slips. Whatever they decide to do to maximize the amount of time Swihart is in the lineup, he'll be the primary catcher and Vazquez's playing time will simply fill in around that.
 
Of course, it's entirely possible Swihart will come up short of his projections and it will be a much tougher call between a league average bat with plus defensive skills and a well below league average bat with elite defensive skills. Even then, I probably go with the better bat and let Vazquez come off the bench. Offense is really tough to find in general. When you can plug a good bat in at a position like shortstop, center field or catcher, I think you have to do it. Whether that means Vazquez should be traded or not is up for debate, but I'm not convinced he'll have a huge amount of trade potential without his bat improving, and if that happens, we're back to having a really difficult choice between he an Swihart.
 

Drek717

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ALiveH said:
Where is all the optimism coming from on offense with Swihart?  I just don't see it his minor league career OPS is 0.100 less than Betts or Bogaerts and he was 1-2 years older at every level than them.  Comparing him to Posey - Posey's minor league OPS was about full 0.200 better than Swihart and he was the same age at every level..  I know stats don't always tell the whole story for minor leaguers, but I just don't see what people are basing his prospect hype on.
 
Or is the argument just that he is a much better prospect relative to Vazquez?  Swihart's minor league OPS is 0.032 better than Vazquez and both were basically the same age at every level.  So, Swihart has been slightly better offensively & his defense is supposed to be great, but Vazquez' defense is probably a full notch better.  So, maybe it's a wash & Vazquez is just slightly more proven on the MLB level (he wasn't a total black hole on offense in SSS).
Swihart is compared to Posey because they were both highly catchers drafted in the first round with similar scouting profiles, physical dimensions, etc..
 
The optimism for Swihart is that he's rapidly improved on both sides of the ball, whereas most prospects stall offensively as they work to improve as a catcher defensively.  Swihart has also been working on becoming a legitimate (read: not Daniel Nava, a switch hitter in that he practices futility against LHP from the opposite side of the plate).  Swihart took a huge step forward in that regard last year.
 
Also, they weren't the same age at every level.  Posey went to college and therefore only spent one full season in the minors.  That was split between A+ (when he was 21) and AAA, playing in the PCL with it's massive offensive inflation.  He had a cup of coffee the year before that in Rookie and A- ball, then a little under half a season of AAA the following year, again in the PCL.  Swihart has actually moved level by level through the minors with last year being his first season with any cross-level time (18 AAA games to end the season).  From 20 to 21 his OPS jumped by almost .090 despite moving up a level.  From 21 to 22 he made what many have largely considered the most challenging jump for any prospect, low minors to AA, and his OPS jumped nearly .050 points.  His defense has progressed with similar leaps despite moving up levels.
 
So ask yourself how well do you think Swihart would have handled A+ ball for 80 games last year because that is where Posey was playing at a similar age.
 
Swihart is pretty much universally expected to mature into a switch hitter who can consistently put up an OPS in the .800's.  That's a valuable hitter at any position in today's offensive climate.  Vazquez was a better hitter throughout the minors than he showed last year, but he was young for a catcher and will likely see significant offensive growth as he matures.  Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are the best offensive comps for Swihart because other than them almost no catchers hit consistently well year to year.  Yadi does now but he sucked for his first several years.  It isn't a coincidence that Minnesota has already moved Mauer out from behind the dish and there is always talk about SF doing the same with Posey.  Their bats are at least as valuable as their ability to catch.  If Swihart lives up to his potential it will be a similar situation and the Red Sox will look to limit the wear and tear on him to maximize his offensive value.  Pairing him with Vazquez would be an ideal setup for that.  They could be in a roughly 50/50 timeshare for the first few years and as Swihart ages he could shift into a different defensive position (1B, maybe 3B given how great an athlete he's supposed to be), letting the superior defender in Vazquez take up a larger share of the catching responsibilities.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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The wrong side of the bridge....

ALiveH

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thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful answer on Swihart as a prospect. 
 
It's true that his L/R splits have improved and having even splits is a small positive, so check that box.
 
On Posey & his age 22 year versus Swihart, unlike Swihart Posey continued to rake in AAA after skipping AA that year.  I don't know how Swihart would have done in A+ this year but Posey's 0.967 would be a pretty high hurdle for anyone.  For Posey's age 23 year he took it up another notch & led the league in OPS among true prospects (the 4 guys ahead of him were 26+ years old) and he was four years young for his league that year; Swihart will be 4 years young for AAA next year.  I think it's fair to say that it would be very pleasantly shocking if Swihart comes anywhere close to that level of production next year relative to his league.
 
Mauer was putting up >0.800 OPS in AAA a full 2 years younger than Swihart will be next year.
 
I guess reasonable minds can differ.  As for me, especially given recent mixed experiences with up-and-coming prospects, I just don't share the unquestioning optimism that Swihart pencils in as >0.800 OPS as a major league hitter given that he averaged significantly less than that so far as a minor leaguer.  I get that it's tougher to develop offensively as a catcher but that isn't going to change after he becomes a major league regular.  Catchers have numerous built-in disadvantages offensively: squatting all game & having to spend extra time with the pitchers.
 

PrometheusWakefield

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Rudy Pemberton said:
31 runs a year just on framing? Does that really pass the smell test? Given how miserable the Sox pitchers walk and K rates were with Vazquez, it's sort of difficult to see how much of an impact even generational level framing could have made. Or perhaps the pitching was truly awful made a bit better by great framing?

Basically- how confident are we in the measurement and projection of framing?
Certainly, less confident than we are about Buster Posey's offense. And it is certainly a shocking thing to claim that pitch framing can make as much of a difference as, say, offense. Although perhaps a little less shocking now that we've had 4-5 years to absorb that idea. During that time a lot of people have been doing a lot of research on this issue and I haven't heard anybody come away from that research saying "OK, guys, we're taking this pitch framing thing a bit too far" - at least, not yet.
 
If anything it seems like the reverse - that the more work goes in to this field the more people are confirming that pitch framing is a really big deal that changes not only how we evaluate catcher defense, but how we evaluate the importance of catcher defense relative to overall catcher value. As in, it appears that catcher defense is much, much more important than was widely recognized a decade ago.
 
Unfortunately for Blake Swihart, he chose the wrong time to come up as an offense first catcher. 
 

Drek717

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ALiveH said:
thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful answer on Swihart as a prospect. 
 
It's true that his L/R splits have improved and having even splits is a small positive, so check that box.
 
On Posey & his age 22 year versus Swihart, unlike Swihart Posey continued to rake in AAA after skipping AA that year.  I don't know how Swihart would have done in A+ this year but Posey's 0.967 would be a pretty high hurdle for anyone.  For Posey's age 23 year he took it up another notch & led the league in OPS among true prospects (the 4 guys ahead of him were 26+ years old) and he was four years young for his league that year; Swihart will be 4 years young for AAA next year.  I think it's fair to say that it would be very pleasantly shocking if Swihart comes anywhere close to that level of production next year relative to his league.
 
Mauer was putting up >0.800 OPS in AAA a full 2 years younger than Swihart will be next year.
 
I guess reasonable minds can differ.  As for me, especially given recent mixed experiences with up-and-coming prospects, I just don't share the unquestioning optimism that Swihart pencils in as >0.800 OPS as a major league hitter given that he averaged significantly less than that so far as a minor leaguer.  I get that it's tougher to develop offensively as a catcher but that isn't going to change after he becomes a major league regular.  Catchers have numerous built-in disadvantages offensively: squatting all game & having to spend extra time with the pitchers.
Which is why I doubt you see Swihart ever taking on a full time catcher's role unless Vazquez is an abject failure.  The club would rather reduce the catching related wear and tear and miscellaneous time demands to enhance his offensive value.
 
Also, Swihart is a classic scouts over stats prospect, but also a clear example of when that has value.  Scouts have said all along he has the potential to be a special player.  The stats didn't suggest that when he barely cracked a .700 OPS in A ball.  But then statistics wouldn't predict a 90 point jump despite moving up levels.  They also wouldn't have projected the near 50 point jump he made despite stepping up to AAA last year.  The stats don't tell the story on Swihart, otherwise he wouldn't see these dramatic offensive jumps moving up levels when everyone else is standing still.
 
Lastly, you're giving too much credence to PCL numbers.  A lot of absolute nobodies have thrown up a .900 OPS years in the PCL.  It is absurd hitter's park after absurd hitter's park.  Some of them make Coors and Chase look like a pitcher's paradise.  Posey is a great player because he was an exception talent and was fast tracked through the minors as a result.  His stint in the PCL is not proof of his talent and is wholly irrelevant to what he's done at the ML level, just like all those .900 OPS seasons by guys like Jerry Sands (back to back .900 or better seasons at ages 23 and 24) weren't remotely predictive of what they were capable of.
 
Swihart might not live up to the hype, but he isn't a consensus top 20 prospect in baseball because the aggregate statistics indicate he'll be a slightly above average defensive catcher with a ~.700 OPS.
 
Hanley Ramirez was a similar toolsy prospect when he was with the Sox, with similar comparatively mediocre mL stats.  His career OPS at the ML level is about 90 points higher than his career mL OPS.  Sometimes scouts are right.  When they all generally agree that someone isn't just a good prospect, but an incredibly special prospect, and that player rewards that faith with significant year on year improvement in the minors they actually tend to be pretty on point in fact.
 

Devizier

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ALiveH said:
Mauer was putting up >0.800 OPS in AAA a full 2 years younger than Swihart will be next year.
 
Additionally, there's this:
 
 
Mauer expertly blocks pitches with his soft hands and moves quickly on balls in front of the plate. Outstanding arm strength gives him a third present 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale to go with his bat and glove. Mauer has a quick release and puts his throws on the bag with uncanny accuracy; he nabbed 52 percent of basestealers last year
 
 
That's right; the year he broke into the bigs, Baseball America's scouts had Mauer with an 80 score on three different tools.
 
There's a lot of daylight between "very good catching prospect" and Joe Mauer (or Buster Posey).
 

judyb

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Looks like a rehab assignment, of course that means he was in the majors for good at 21, which actually makes the point even better than what he did say.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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2015: Vazquez 3/5 of catching duties, Hanigan 2/5 of catching duties.  Does Farrell go with pitcher pairings or just a rotation to start the season?
2016:  Swihart up.  50/50 split catching duties.  Swihart gets additional play as season progresses if his bat is as good as advertised.
2017:  50/50 split on catching duties, Swihart gets time at 1st, DH and 3rd.
2018:  I could see either of them being put on the trade block... especially if one of them is excelling on both sides and there's another decent prospect in the line
 

Eck'sSneakyCheese

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Looking at CV's OPS in his second year at every level should make anyone here giddy when it comes to what he could accomplish in 2015. Second full year in A ball, .863 in 105 games. Second full year in AA, .771 in 96 games. Last year in AAA, .721 in 66 games. Its not out of the realm of possibility that Vaz could OPS over .700 next year. From what I've seen he's still developing some power that could turn some of those doubles into HR's as well.

I think Swiharts future is at 1B. His bat would play well there if it develops like most people think it will and there's literally no one else in the system that looks like a viable option at first. If Vaz turns out to be what I think he'll be, its a no brainer to move Blake.
 

C4CRVT

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Doing some research on scouting reports for Swihart here's what I'm finding:
 
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/card/card.php?id=70407 Baseball Prospectus (Baseball America's stuff looks to all subscription only)
 
The two scouting reports attached are Jason Parks in 2013 and Chris Mellen in 2014
 
Hit 55/60 (more power from right side of plate but good fluid swing from both sides; good plate dicipline and pitch recognition skills)
Power 40/55 (not a pure power hitter but plenty of pop for 20-35 doubles and 10-17 HR/ year)
Baserunning 40/40
Glove 55/55
Arm 65/65
 
Reading through the descriptions, he would seem to be a solid (enough) bet to be a .275 (up to .290) hitter with a good eye and good contact ability (.350-380 OBP??). He's generally regarded as being an average to just above average defensive C. Both scouts are high on his makeup.
 
Another general sense is that his lack of lower body bulk (6'-1"/ 175#) will benefit from some time not behind the plate but that the bat doesn't profile as special for a 1B.
 

ivanvamp

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
Looking at CV's OPS in his second year at every level should make anyone here giddy when it comes to what he could accomplish in 2015. Second full year in A ball, .863 in 105 games. Second full year in AA, .771 in 96 games. Last year in AAA, .721 in 66 games. Its not out of the realm of possibility that Vaz could OPS over .700 next year. From what I've seen he's still developing some power that could turn some of those doubles into HR's as well.

I think Swiharts future is at 1B. His bat would play well there if it develops like most people think it will and there's literally no one else in the system that looks like a viable option at first. If Vaz turns out to be what I think he'll be, its a no brainer to move Blake.
Travis Shaw had a very solid season in AA and AAA. 20+ hr power, solid glove. LH hitter. Why isn't he someone who might be a viable option at 1b down the road?
 

TomBrunansky23

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judyb said:
Looks like a rehab assignment, of course that means he was in the majors for good at 21, which actually makes the point even better than what he did say.
That is correct. He never spent any time here in Rochester before going to the bigs.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
I think Swiharts future is at 1B. His bat would play well there if it develops like most people think it will and there's literally no one else in the system that looks like a viable option at first. If Vaz turns out to be what I think he'll be, its a no brainer to move Blake.
 Not sure if that's true.... if he hits around .780-.820 OPS as a full time average defensive catcher, that makes him an All Star.  If he hits that as a first baseman, even with GG caliber defense, that makes him less than Mike Napoli.  I feel Napoli types are easier to find around the league- and our surplus of prospects could probably bring us one in a deal- than catchers with Swihart's possible future.  
I also still think Sandoval will end up at 1st in '16.
 

Murby

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I buy into the metrics about pitch framing and I think it's an important consideration to factor in when looking at who you want behind the dish. I am an admitted sucker for Vazquez after seeing him last year. Unless his bat regresses after pitchers catch up to him, and/or Swihart comes up and dazzles, I would expect Vazquez to get most of the battery duty this season. I'm expecting a Vazquez/Swihart split in 2016, however, with Swihart getting the bulk of the work assuming he can put up good offensive numbers and maintain some defensive metrics. Then after splitting time on 2016, and assuming it goes well, I would venture Vazquez would make for a nice trade chip and the Sox would explore that. Then it would be Swihart and who knows.
 

ALiveH

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apologies for messing up the AAA Mauer thing earlier.
 
i thought Swihart's defense at catcher had improved markedly & is now profiling as very good (but not nearly as good as Vazquez' who is arguably already top-3 in MLB).  i haven't seen anybody comment on Swihart's pitch-framing which is a very important consideration.  Anyone know how Swihart's pitch-framing rates?
 
Catcher is such a physically brutal position.  I wonder if there's enough games to go around if we do something like (in 2016+) have Vazquez start 120 at Catcher to keep him fresh.  Swihart gets the other 42 plus backs up 1B & DH.
 

C4CRVT

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Trotsky said:
 Not sure if that's true.... if he hits around .780-.820 OPS as a full time average defensive catcher, that makes him an All Star.  If he hits that as a first baseman, even with GG caliber defense, that makes him less than Mike Napoli.  I feel Napoli types are easier to find around the league- and our surplus of prospects could probably bring us one in a deal- than catchers with Swihart's possible future.  
I also still think Sandoval will end up at 1st in '16.
I saw somewhere on the site someone breaking positions down in quintiles. I thought it was an interesting way to gague player performance compared to hitters at the same position.
 
2014 1Bmen by OPS/ 400 PA min. (31)
 
Top 6 .964-.860
(7-12) .847- .795
(13-18) .792 -.732
(19-24) .728- .711
(25-31).704 to our very own Allen Craig .594. Ugh.
 
2014 Catchers by OPS/ 400 PA min. (23)
 
Top 5 .893-.810
(6-10) .785-.727
(11-15)  .719-.699
(16-20)  .693-.686
(21-23) .681-.651
 
So if he hits the .780-.820 that you suggest, he's a top 5-7ish offensive C or a middle of the road 1Bman.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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I'll even make another prediction:
During his '15 callup, Swihart will OPS around .580 and in his first full season, in '16, as a 50/50 partner with Vazquez he'll put up an OPS around .600 and everyone on SoSH and around the Sox fan base will be bemoaning that his trade value has plummeted, that he was overly hyped and that he'll only end up as a backup on a non-competitive team.
He'll start off slow in '17 and then turn a corner onto an All Star avenue.
 

Snodgrass'Muff

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Trotsky said:
 
I also still think Sandoval will end up at 1st in '16.
On my phone, so I apologize for isolating this rather than bolding it with what preceded it, but what are you basing this on? He is still a comfortably above average defensive third baseman and I'd be shocked if he's a full time first baseman after one year. I would wager the front office would be as well or there is no way they would have given him that contract.
 

MikeM

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C4CRVT said:
So if he hits the .780-.820 that you suggest, he's a top 5-7ish offensive C or a middle of the road 1Bman.
 
Can't forget the financial aspect there either. Napoli is currently getting paid $16m to do that at first.  
 
As long as we end up comfortable with it's fit in the overall roster makeup, there is still a lot of potential value and created flexibility to be had in a guy who can spend a number of seasons doing it for much, much less. 
 

nvalvo

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ivanvamp said:
Travis Shaw had a very solid season in AA and AAA. 20+ hr power, solid glove. LH hitter. Why isn't he someone who might be a viable option at 1b down the road?
 
I'm really happy about having Shaw as 1B/DH depth on the 40-man roster, but unless he has a breakout season, I wouldn't be very happy about going into a season with him as a prospective starter. He's hardly been young for his levels.
 

Eck'sSneakyCheese

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Trotsky said:
Not sure if that's true.... if he hits around .780-.820 OPS as a full time average defensive catcher, that makes him an All Star.  If he hits that as a first baseman, even with GG caliber defense, that makes him less than Mike Napoli.  I feel Napoli types are easier to find around the league- and our surplus of prospects could probably bring us one in a deal- than catchers with Swihart's possible future.  
I also still think Sandoval will end up at 1st in '16.
I don't think Napoli types are easy to find at all. I would think having a cost controlled switch hitting 1B who consistently OPSs over .800 would be pretty valuable to the team, All-Star or not. Especially if Vazquez can hit, or at least get on base at a decent clip.
 

tonyarmasjr

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
Looking at CV's OPS in his second year at every level should make anyone here giddy when it comes to what he could accomplish in 2015. Second full year in A ball, .863 in 105 games. Second full year in AA, .771 in 96 games. Last year in AAA, .721 in 66 games. Its not out of the realm of possibility that Vaz could OPS over .700 next year. From what I've seen he's still developing some power that could turn some of those doubles into HR's as well.
I think Swiharts future is at 1B. His bat would play well there if it develops like most people think it will and there's literally no one else in the system that looks like a viable option at first. If Vaz turns out to be what I think he'll be, its a no brainer to move Blake.
Those numbers are for his first full year at AA and AAA. He played 20 games and 1 game there the previous year. I think people are really selling him short offensively, based on his first 200 PAs in the majors and a defense-first reputation. A .700 OPS next year may be asking a lot, but it's actually a fairly conservative projection for 2016+. That would put him in the 11-15 range for catchers C4CRVT posted above. If the power develops, he could get into the .730-.750 range. Add in his abilities at the premier defensive position, and I think Swihart HAS to OPS .800+ to get 50% of the catching duties.
 

Sprowl

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It's hard to be sure of Christian's batting style based on one half-season in the majors, but I'll hazard a few observations:
 
- he protects the outside edge very well, consistently hitting groundballs or line drives to RF.
 
- he's got no power, nor will he ever. I'd like to see his HitFX velocity data, but haven't seen that kind of data released. Pending better data, I suspect that the best we can hope for is consistently tough at-bats that work the count and the pitcher, ending with a groundball to the opposite field. If he hits the ball in the air, it will be a near-automatic out.
 
- he has a weak spot up in the zone, and sooner or later, every pitcher in the majors will try to tease him with a slider in the dirt, then blow him away with the high hard stuff. I have my doubts about whether he will make the same adaptation to major-league quality pitchers that he did in the minors.
 

Sprowl

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Papelbon's Poutine said:
It certainly seems like his second year in Greenville - with 18 HRs and a .505 SLG - was a fluke. As to your last point, is there a particular reason you doubt he can make the adjustment to lay off the high hard stuff? I know that tends to be one of the harder habits to break for young guys, but just wondering why you are particularly skeptical on CV in this regard? 
 
Mostly because his batting stance is fairly low and his skill at protecting the outside of the plate comes at the cost of hitting pitches up or in. If he changes his stance to deal with the high hard stuff, he may lose the ability to cover pitches away.
 
Two charts show these weaknesses:
 
whiff rate against high fastballs
 
whiff rate against low sliders and curves
 
I think pitchers will stop throwing outside to him, and concentrate on expanding his strike zone high with fastballs and low with sliders. He doesn't have the power to make them regret challenging him.
 

Eck'sSneakyCheese

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I don't know Sprowl. Your research says probably not but my eyeballs say he'll have double digit HR's. I like his swing and he has a few more years to develop some power before he "peaks."
 

MakMan44

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
I don't know Sprowl. Your research says probably not but my eyeballs say he'll have double digit HR's. I like his swing and he has a few more years to develop some power before he "peaks."
Actually, research suggests that power peaks around 24.
 

iayork

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MakMan44 said:
Actually, research suggests that power peaks around 24.
Isolated power might peak at 24, but SLG peaks a little later, more like 26; and that's true for catchers as well as other position players.  More importantly, the variation is so huge that taking the trend and applying to one person isn't going to tell us very much, unfortunately.  
 
Age of peak offense, all position players:
Age of peak offense, catchers:
 
While I'm at it, here's another view of Vazquez's offense.  This is looking at his performance against pitches that are not called balls.  The size of the outer circles is the number of pitches in each zone; the size of the inner circle represents how often he swung at the pitches; and the color represents the total bases that he got per pitch in that zone.  Green is bad, grey is league-average, red is good.
There's not much red there.  Unsurprisingly, pitchers threw right down the middle to him, and he didn't do a lot to them.   Against RHP he is a little better, with some success in the outer part of the plate, but he could bump his swing rate up a little, especially with the pitches at the heart of the plate.  
 
Just for comparison, here's the same plot for Ortiz:
For obvious reasons, pitchers are much more cautious with Papi, and he doesn't let much in the middle of the zone go past him. 
 

Fireball Fred

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Vazquez made a promising transition to the majors, and is suddenly much more highly regarded than he had been. Swihart hasn't made that move yet - this is a question that may answer itself when the time comes. The makeup of the pitching staff may make a difference, as it has for Sox catchers' roles in the past. For example, does the kind of staff we seem to have in '15 put a premium on framing?

Query: Is it possible that MLB will take action to make framing less important in the future? There are at least a couple of ways this might be done. I ask because framing is newly prominent and surprisingly effective, and because it is arguably illegitimate - playing the umps not the opponent.

Note on peak power: We actually use the word "power" in two slightly different ways (1) hitting the ball hard, historically measured by home runs, (2) having a high slugging average. (2) includes extra bases achieved by foot speed, and therefore peaks earlier; many players go through a phase of getting stronger but slower.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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Fireball Fred said:
Query: Is it possible that MLB will take action to make framing less important in the future? There are at least a couple of ways this might be done. I ask because framing is newly prominent and surprisingly effective, and because it is arguably illegitimate - playing the umps not the opponent.
 
This seems backwards to me. The fact that a catcher's receiving technique can make a pitch look more or less like a strike is not something catchers invented; it's a reality that forms part of the context in which they work. Given that reality, is it reasonable to ask them not to try to make sure their pitchers' offerings look as much like strikes as possible?
 
In other words, if there's anything "illegitimate" about framing, it's the fact that umps are susceptible to it. If that's a problem, the solution is robot umps, not disciplining catchers for doing their best to succeed.
 

buzzard21

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I agree with Savin, the thing MLB may do to increase offense would be to shrink the strike zone and that would only raise the value of a good framing catcher not decrease it. 
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Certainly, less confident than we are about Buster Posey's offense. And it is certainly a shocking thing to claim that pitch framing can make as much of a difference as, say, offense. Although perhaps a little less shocking now that we've had 4-5 years to absorb that idea. During that time a lot of people have been doing a lot of research on this issue and I haven't heard anybody come away from that research saying "OK, guys, we're taking this pitch framing thing a bit too far" - at least, not yet.
 
If anything it seems like the reverse - that the more work goes in to this field the more people are confirming that pitch framing is a really big deal that changes not only how we evaluate catcher defense, but how we evaluate the importance of catcher defense relative to overall catcher value. As in, it appears that catcher defense is much, much more important than was widely recognized a decade ago.
 
Unfortunately for Blake Swihart, he chose the wrong time to come up as an offense first catcher.
Well, with respect to your bolded part, GMs don't appear to be factoring in pitch-framing in their catcher transactions. Would TB have DFAd Molina if they were all-in to pitch framing? One would have also expected Martin to get paid more than he did.

I understand the theory behind pitch-framing - that changing a pitch from a ball to a strike has defined results on runs generated and thus can have a measurable effect.

While I'm certainly not a statistician, my concern - just like on defense - is whether we have the correct handle on the magnitude of the effect. For example, perhaps we don't have a great understanding on the contributions of the various participants. Perhaps we should give pitchers a bigger contribution for getting pitches close enough to be framed. Perhaps umpires subconsciously keep track of close calls each game and - kind of like the NBA - might call the first pitch a strike but call the second a ball just to be fair?

As for Jose Molina, here's the article from Fangraphs that suggests that TB would have been crazy to release him from a pitch-framing POV: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/tampa-bay-drops-the-face-of-framing/.
 

Mighty Joe Young

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buzzard21 said:
I agree with Savin, the thing MLB may do to increase offense would be to shrink the strike zone and that would only raise the value of a good framing catcher not decrease it.
Im not so sure about that. Only close pitches would be considered a candidate for the effect. So a pitch, currently on the black and could be called a strike , would fall off the list of candidates when it becomes an obvious ball.

Edit: on further reflection I think the effect would be diminished. One assumes a smaller strike zone means their would be fewer "candidates"
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
I don't think Napoli types are easy to find at all. I would think having a cost controlled switch hitting 1B who consistently OPSs over .800 would be pretty valuable to the team, All-Star or not. Especially if Vazquez can hit, or at least get on base at a decent clip.
I guess I'm thinking of the Napoli '14 version.... less than .800 OPS.  I get that 1B that hit that with GG caliber defense is good, but I also think the Sox could use it's resources to get higher value than that.
I'm just saying that if Swihart hits .780 as a catcher, that's fantastic.  If it's that as a 1B he's not providing as much value to the Sox in any sort of way.... he could probably bring back a young cost controlled 1B with way more offensive power.  You think Theo wouldn't hang up the phone if Ben offered Swihart and Kelley for Rizzo?
 

iayork

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BCsMightyJoeYoung said:
Im not so sure about that. Only close pitches would be considered a candidate for the effect. So a pitch, currently on the black and could be called a strike , would fall off the list of candidates when it becomes an obvious ball.

Edit: on further reflection I think the effect would be diminished. One assumes a smaller strike zone means their would be fewer "candidates"
 
According to http://www.statcorner.com/CatcherReport.php, in 2014 the top ten catchers in terms of pitch framing were from 1.43-2.21 +calls per game.  In 2008, before the strike zone expanded appreciably, the top ten catchers were from 1.50-4.08.  So there's little difference (aside from Molina getting older), but if anything, it looks as if the reverse is true - the smaller zone gives more opportunity for catchers to work their magic.