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All the tools

Allen Lessels' On Baseball: Sea Dogs’ Vazquez showing all the tools

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 14. 2013 8:54PM
Portland Sea Dogs Catcher Christian Vazquez, as the NH Fisher Cats play the Portland Seadogs, at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, on Tuesday, in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- HE’S got a gun of an arm and that’s impressive enough.

But take a closer look. Check out that release.

Christian Vazquez, a 22-year-old catcher out of the Dominican Republic, and the Portland Sea Dogs hit Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Tuesday night for the first of the team’s 14 games here this season.

Vazquez is quickly becoming the talk of baseball.

Stress the “quick.”

Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles, a former catcher himself, absolutely raves about the young catcher.

“You see the athleticism and what he can do,” Boles said. “I don’t think we’ve seen a guy that can actually turn a ball around as quick as he can to second base. He’s that quick. It’s very impressive in his consistency of turning the ball around. He’s very quick as far as blocking and being able to get to a spot and beat the ball to a spot. Has strong hands.”

The list of his attributes goes on and on.

And Boles isn’t the only one talking Vazquez up.

He’s one of five catchers on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster and his quickness and release, along with his other defensive talents, are coming on strong and baseball folks have noticed.

Scouts talk about his pop time, the time from the ball hitting his glove to his releasing it, as being well above major league average right now.

His whole game keeps improving.

Last year, Vazquez started out in High-A Salem and was called up to Portland on Aug. 3. He hit .205 in his 20 games with the Sea Dogs and his hitting has regularly trailed his defensive work He’s focusing on that, too.

“I love working on hitting,” Vazquez said. “I want to hit. They were talking to me about needing to work on the offense.”

So he hit the batting cages in the offseason and worked on that as well as his defense.

He had a couple of good workout partners back in Puerto Rico.

“I was practicing with the brothers Molina (major league catchers Yadier and Jose),” he said. “Hitting, catching, we were working on everything.”

The work continued with Chad Epperson, the Red Sox’s minor league coaching coordinator, and Rich Gedman, the former Red Sox All-Star who is the Sea Dogs hitting coach.

“In the cage, I’ve been working on hitting to the middle of the field,” Vazquez. “I was trying to do too much at the plate. I need to be quiet and short. I’m hitting to the middle. It’s helping a lot.”

Off-season work and a lot of long throwing have helped build up his arm strength, too.

“In the beginning of my career, my arm was not that strong,” Vazquez said. “I was quick but not too strong. I was throwing long and working out in the gym and got strong. I like to throw long. It’s part of my routine in the offseason in Puerto Rico. I do it during the season on my off days, too.”

All the work is paying off.

He was hitting .250 coming into Manchester and feels good at the plate.

But it’s the behind-the-plate stuff — the arm, the quick release, the leadership qualities — that opens eyes and keeps people like Boles talking.

Tuesday night the Fisher Cats had the bases loaded with two outs and Vazquez made a pickoff throw to first and the ball came back to him and a rundown got Kevin Pillar coming from third to end the inning.

In the sixth, he nailed Brad Glenn when he attempted to steal second base.

“He’s not afraid to take chances,” Boles said. “He’s not afraid to take some risks. That’s him being a leader behind the plate ... He’s good as far as pitch selection and making sure that we execute a game plan ... It’s amazing how far he’s come in such a few years. It’s really impressive.”

Christian Vazquez. Watch him.

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