With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, starting today with catcher.The Red Sox had health, stability and solid defense behind the plate last season, as
With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, starting today with catcher.
The Red Sox had health, stability and solid defense behind the plate last season, as Christian Vazquez (85 starts) and Sandy Leon (77) were the duo that teamed up to start all 162 games of the regular season, plus the four games in the American League Division Series against the Astros.
With the tandem back in the fold for 2018, this area should again be a strength for the Red Sox. But there could be some new wrinkles.
Blake Swihart, once deemed Boston's catcher of the future, is out of Minor League options. This opens the very real possibility that the Red Sox could open the season with three catchers.
The reason they can do this is because Swihart has positional flexibility. He can also play left field, first base and designated hitter.
While carrying three catchers is a luxury few teams can make work, Boston's unique situation could allow manager Alex Cora additional flexibility in the late innings when it comes to pinch-hitting or pinch-running.
After two injury-plagued and inconsistent seasons, the fact that Swihart is now out of options means he is at a crossroads in his time with the Red Sox. Last year, Boston kept him in the Minor Leagues until it was time for September callups. The luxury to do that is no longer there, and it's all but certain Swihart would be claimed if the team designated him for assignment.
Swihart's athleticism and hitting potential from both sides of the plate makes him an intriguing player. And he's still young at 25.
The other thing that could change with the way the Red Sox handle their catchers is the way the playing time is divvied up.
Former manager John Farrell came to believe that job sharing was the best way to go at catcher, and he did get decent results out of Vazquez and Leon under that arrangement.
But after getting a chance to evaluate his catchers in Spring Training, Cora could end up going with a true No. 1 catcher. Vazquez probably has the best chance to land that job.
Vazquez demonstrated that his cannon arm was all the way back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2015, and he threw out 21 of the 50 runners who tried to steal on him in '17.
The right-handed hitter also demonstrated he can get the job done at the plate, slashing .290/.330/.404 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 345 at-bats.
"I think I like to play," Vazquez said earlier this offseason. "I don't like to be on the bench. That's something I'm looking at. I think I'd like to test my skills to play more than 100 games. That's the goal this year, and get back to October -- that's all."
Vazquez acknowledges that the area he needs to continue to get better at is calling a game.
After Leon's surprisingly strong 2016 season (.310/.369/.476), he dipped to more expected levels in '17 (.225/.290/.354).
Leon's strength has always been his defense, and the fact that ace Chris Sale loves throwing to him doesn't hurt his stock.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.