With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com will go around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, starting with the catching position.To find the most intriguing position with the Red Sox, it's best to
With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com will go around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, starting with the catching position.
To find the most intriguing position with the Red Sox, it's best to keep your eyes focused behind the plate.
While most of manager John Farrell's lineup is set heading into the coming season, there should be a compelling battle at catcher, for which three solid candidates will make a case.
The incumbent is Sandy Leon, a man who was hardly even on the radar at this time last year. A non-roster invitee in Spring Training last February, Leon had his chance to re-emerge in early June when Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart were both injured on the same day.
At the time, Leon was expected to back up Christian Vazquez. Instead, he displayed the best offense of his life and worked his way into a starting job, which he kept through the final four months of the season.
Leon did falter offensively down the stretch, creating questions of whether it was simply late-season fatigue or opposing pitchers developing a better scouting report on him. Leon hopes to prove it was the former, but Swihart and Vazquez have a lot to prove also.
Swihart was the Opening Day catcher last season, but the Red Sox pulled the plug after just six starts and optioned him back to Triple-A Pawtucket.
One of the reasons the Red Sox acted so quickly was because Vazquez was champing at the bit in his return from Tommy John surgery and had been declared healthy.
But the cannon-armed catcher didn't perform as well as he or the club had hoped. Why did Vazquez struggle? It could well have been a combination of rust after not playing for a year and his body still recovering from the surgery.
Before the All-Star break, Vazquez found himself back in the Minor Leagues. He returned to Boston when rosters were expanded in September.
Meanwhile, Swihart resurfaced in early June -- but as a left fielder. Just as Swihart was adapting to that position, he had a nasty collision with the side wall in left field at Fenway Park and missed the final four months of the season.
There has been a lot of fluidity for the Red Sox behind the plate, and the club would love to get more stability there going forward.
How will it all come together?
Swihart -- who will come to camp strictly as a catcher -- has the best bat of the three. Vazquez has the best arm. Leon, if he can hit like he did a year ago, has maybe the best complement of skills.
Vazquez and Leon are both out of options, which could lead to Swihart being sent down again so the Red Sox can protect their organizational depth.
"It's clear Sandy exceeded our expectations, particularly offensively. The defensive side of it, I think, has been consistent with what we acquired when we got him from the Nationals," Farrell said. "Last year, for Christian, it was as important a year as any he will go through in his career. Coming off the Tommy John, coming off a year of missed at-bats … I think when he came back to us [late in the season], there was an advancement on his part in terms of running a game, that seemed to show up.
"The unknown at this point is the readiness of Blake. There's still work to be done on the receiving side of things despite the ankle injury. ... We're deep, and I think very capable with the guys that are in house."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.