For the first time in half a decade, the Red Sox enter a season with questions about who will get the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate. Cristian Vasquez he’s been their Opening Day starter in each of the last five years. His trade to Houston at last summer’s deadline and subsequent three-year free-agent signing with the Twins ensures that Boston will have to find a new solution in 2023.
The Sox currently have just two catchers on their 40-man roster. Boston brought in Reese McGuire in a trade with the White Sox hours after Vázquez was shipped last August. The former first-round draft pick finished the season well, hitting .337/.377/.500 with a trio of home runs in 36 games with Boston. It was an excellent first impression for the 27-year-old (28 tomorrow) but an outlier in the wider context of his career. In 566 plate appearances between the Blue Jays and White Sox before the trade, McGuire had hit .241/.286/.359 with only nine long balls.
McGuire hasn’t had many consistent opportunities to get into a groove against MLB pitching. Prior to last season, he had never appeared in half team games. However, it generally had a strong defensive reputation. McGuire has graded out as a top prospect in each of the last two seasons, per Statcast. In just under 1600 career innings behind the plate, he has thrown out a very strong 31.4% of pitches.
Connor Wong looks like the early favorite to split time with McGuire at Fenway Park. The other 40-man hitter, he has played in just 33 big league games over the last two seasons. Part of the Mookie Betts trade back from the Dodgers, the 26-year-old Wong posted an impressive .276/.327/.471 line in 131 games for Triple-A Worcester. That included a particularly strong .288/.349/.489 performance with 15 homers in 355 plate appearances for the WooSox last season.
There’s reason for optimism for both McGuire and Wong, though there’s an obvious risk in relying on either as a regular, given that neither has proven themselves over the course of a full season against MLB competition. McGuire lands a left hand and Wong swings in from the right side. That would ostensibly allow for mixing and matching based on pitcher ability, though manager Alex Cora balked this afternoon. “It’s not a strict platoon situation,” Cora said (link via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe). “Wong can also hit righties, and Reese can hit lefties. We’ll see how we do. We will see what the roster is and make decisions.“
The Sox avoided any major catching additions this offseason. Boston didn’t add anyone in major league free agents or via trade. Former Marlin and Padre Jorge Alfaro came on board via non-roster pact. Alfaro brings more experience to camp and looks like the top depth option in the organization. That he was limited to minor league offers this winter hints at the offensive and defensive questions that have plagued him throughout his career. Alfaro is a .256/.305/.396 hitter with a 34.1% strikeout rate over parts of seven MLB campaigns. He has excellent arm strength, but usually grades below average as a receiver.
Former top prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and Caleb Hamilton, who were claimed off waivers by the Twins at the start of the offseason, are also in the organization as non-roster players. Each has senior-level experience, but has not been claimed off waivers this winter and clearly appears behind McGuire and Wong on the roster.
It’s possible that Boston will want to increase its catching depth before Opening Day, perhaps targeting a veteran who is currently on a minor league deal elsewhere but who isn’t cracking the MLB roster. The Guardians, as an example, have each of these Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria and Zach Collins in off-roster deals battling for a backup job this spring. Gary Sanchez he is the top remaining free agent. However, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported last week that the Red Sox had no contact with their longtime rival.
(tags For Translation) Caleb Hamilton