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Vazquez popping up as catching prospect

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 8, 2013 10:23 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. It's one of those baseball statistics you won't find in the morning newspaper or on a website. But all teams keep close track of pop times.

That's the amount of time it takes a catcher to receive the ball, pop out of his crouch, and throw to a base. Two seconds is considered an average time. Anything around 1.8 is excellent.

In the sixth inning on Friday, when Red Sox prospect Christian Vazquez threw out Trevor Plouffe at second base, the Red Sox had him at 1.82 seconds. It was the kind of throw that had people in the stands buzzing. In the Red Sox dugout, too.

Vazquez has the most impressive arm among a strong group of catchers in camp. It's strong and accurate, and he's not afraid to use it to throw behind runners.

"Outstanding feet, quick release, plenty of arm strength, accuracy. This is probably the fourth guy he's cut down in spring training," Sox manager John Farrell said. "All of the same variety. He's confident when he throws the baseball and I think that just shows in the accuracy and the quickness in which he releases the ball."

Vazquez, 22, is a 5-foot-9-inch, 195-pound native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He grew up watching the Molina brothers of Bayamon, Bengie, Jose, and Yadier. All three have World Series rings and are respected across the island for their accomplishments.

Vazquez, through his personal trainer, started working out with the Molinas in 2010. That included training in the gym, on a track, and on the field.

"Very good guys," Vazquez said. "I watched them in winter ball. When I was a kid, I was there watching."

So, does Vazquez have a bigger arm than the Molinas?

"I think so," he said, laughing.

Maybe he does. Vazquez led the Single A Carolina League with a 41.9 caught stealing percentage last season. He hit .266 for Salem with 24 extra-base hits in 293 at-bats. He earned a late-season promotion to Double A Portland and that is likely where he will start this season.

"He's a great-looking prospect behind the plate," Farrell said. "He's durable and this is a guy that's really come a long way since he signed out of Puerto Rico. A guy that's really worked his way [up] from a stamina standpoint and overall strength. When his arrival date is here, he's probably a couple of injuries away in the short term. In the long term he's got some development left with the bat, but he's a very good prospect behind the plate."

The Red Sox will have some potentially difficult decisions to make with their catchers this year and next.

David Ross is signed for two seasons and will serve as a valuable backup and mentor. The primary catcher this year will be Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will be a free agent after the season.

Ryan Lavarnway, 25, has made great strides in recent seasons. Vazquez is a fast-rising prospect and 26-year-old Dan Butler keeps proving he belongs after arriving as an undrafted free agent. The Sox also have well-regarded Blake Swihart, a 20-year-old former first-round draft pick who played for low-A Greenville last season.

It will be interesting to see to what degree Jason Varitek influences the decisions to come. In his new role, Varitek will be working closely with Lavarnway, Vazquez, Butler, Swihart, and other young catchers and his recommendations will carry a lot of weight.

Also:

Farrell said Ryan Dempster threw all fastballs against the Twins with the exception of 12 or 13 cutters or sliders. Dempster wanted to build up arm strength and throwing a bunch of fastballs was the best way to do it.

"He's shown the ability to throw three or four pitches for strikes in his previous outings," the manager said. "He wanted to go out and pitch with his fastball here tonight."

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