FORT MYERS, Fla. — Baseball scouts and front office geeks will tell you that the true value of many catchers doesn’t really emerge until they hit their late 20s.
Case in point: Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox’s undisputed man behind the plate.
Thirteen years after signing his first professional contract with Boston he has, at age 30, become one of the top receivers in baseball.
He comes from the catcher’s gold-standard breeding ground, Puerto Rico, which has spawned such greats as Ivan Rodriguez, Yadier Molina (and his two brothers), Javy Lopez, Jorge Posada and Benito Santiago, as well as recent Gold Glove winners Roberto Perez of Cleveland and Martin Maldanado of the Astros.
“He wants to be in the consideration as one of the best from Puerto Rico,” said Red Sox manager and Puerto Rico native Alex Cora on Friday at JetBlue Park.
Vazquez came into camp leaner this year, readying himself for the 162-game schedule. In the offseason he hired a nutrition specialist and a chef to better prepare his body.
“I’m lighter. I feel better. I’m moving better behind the plate,” Vazquez said. “I feel 10 years younger. It feels good.”
Cora wouldn’t predict how many games he will catch. But with an abundance of off days — and no doubt postponements — Cora said, “you’ll see him back there a lot.”
Not much of a hitter after his call-up in 2014, Vazquez has become a legitimate offensive threat. Two years ago, surprisingly, he batted .276 with 23 homers and 72 RBIs.
With long-ball threats Bobby Dalbec and Hunter Renfroe also ticketed for the bottom of the batting order, it gives the Red Sox lineup a powerful threesome. Those 23 homers were more than double the combined number (10) that he had hit in his first five seasons.
In 2019, baseball began to catch on to Vazquez’s defensive tools. That year he threw out more than 40 percent of would-be base-stealers and made just one error in more than 900 total chances.
That resulted in an incredible .999 defensive percentage.
Cora said that the next step for Vazquez “is to lead the staff, to be a leader back there. We want the best Christian Vazquez behind the plate.”
During last year’s disastrous season and into this winter, there were all kinds of rumors that Vazquez might be traded. He certainly hopes not, and said he would like to be a Red Sox lifer.
“My goal is to retire here,” Vazquez said. “That’s a goal in my career to be a part of one organization.”
Kevin Plawecki will catch when Vazquez gets a breather and there are a couple of others waiting for a chance — Connor Wong who came over in the Mookie Betts deal and Ronaldo Hernandez, acquired from Tampa Bay this spring.
“We have capable backstops,” Cora said. “I am comfortable with our catching position.”
Around the bases
Special assistant Jason Varitek caught a bullpen session for the first time this spring. “There is a special presence about him,” Cora said. “When he talks, people listen. He will manage in the big leagues someday.” … Cora said he thought Friday’s three-plus-hour workout “was the best of the spring.” … The team announced its 2021 spring training broadcast schedule on Friday. Of the 29 Grapefruit League games, 11 will be on NESN or NESN Plus. The Red Sox Radio Network will carry every game, and Boston’s March 2 game against Tampa Bay will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Read More: Boston Red Sox catcher set to make impact this season at plate, behind it