Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez, 15 pounds lighter than he was last year, aspiring to win first Gold Glove in 2021

Earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora poked fun at a typical spring training cliché you hear every year in that a certain player showed up to camp in the best shape of his life. The player Cora was talking about in this case was Christian Vazquez.

“Christian put work in in the offseason,” Cora said Monday. “I know [WEEI’s Rob Bradford] always makes fun of me when I say ‘He’s in the best shape of his life,’ because everybody is. Well, you’ll see him. You’ll see the pictures. He is in the best shape of his life.”

While Vazquez has been at camp for the past week-plus, he talked to reporters for the first time this spring on Friday and went into more detail about what exactly he accomplished over the winter.

“I went out and improved everything,” the veteran backstop said via a Zoom call. “I improved my hitting, my body. [I wanted to] get in the best shape, the best I can do with my body. I want to catch all the games I can and help the team.

Vazquez, 30, is coming off a 2020 season in which he slashed a solid .283/.344/.457 to go along with seven home runs and 23 RBI over 47 games played, 42 of which came behind the plate.

As he alluded to, the Puerto Rico native is coming into spring training in better shape thanks in part to dropping a significant amount of weight during the offseason, which he feels will aid him throughout the upcoming 2021 campaign.

“I’ve lost like 15 pounds,” Vazquez said while giving credit to one of the Red Sox’ nutritionists for helping with his diet. “I’m lighter, I feel better, moving better behind the plate. I feel 10 years younger, so it feels good. It feels good.”

Given the fact that he feels as good as he has in quite a while, Vazquez would like to start as many games at catcher for the Sox as possible in 2021. And while playing a full 162 may be out of the question, the right-handed hitter would still prefer to contribute as much as possible.

“Like I said before, I don’t help the team on the bench,” said Vazquez. “That’s the pride I take everyday. Go to the ballpark and be in the lineup. I want to be there. I like to be on the field. Like, I need to be dead to be on the bench, brother. I like to be in the lineup everyday. They pay me for that, so why not? Take charge everyday behind the plate, help my pitchers, block all the balls. It’s the pride inside me.”

Taking that pride into consideration, one milestone Vazquez would like to reach as a catcher from Puerto Rico is to win a Gold Glove Award, which seemed like a given at the time of his call-up in 2014 due to his reputation as a defense-first backstop back then.

“I know for a fact that he takes it personal because Martin [Maldonado] has a Gold Glove. Roberto [Pérez] has two,” Cora said of Vazquez’s aspirations earlier Friday. “Obviously Yadi [Molina], he’s the king of the Gold Gloves on the island. So, it’s a position that since 1986 when Benito [Santiago] got called up with the Padres, we’ve been so consistent behind the plate. We’ve had so many good ones. And he wants to be in the conversation.”

Over the last two seasons, Vazquez ranks second in Catcher Framing (17) and third in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among qualified big-league catchers, per FanGraphs. He has also thrown out 31 of the 88 base runners (35%) who have attempted to steal off of him in that time frame.

“He’s one of the most complete catchers in the big leagues,” Cora stated confidently in regards to Vazquez’s ability at and behind the plate. “Offensively, he puts the whole package. But sometimes those awards are hard to come… He put in a good season last year. I think framing-wise he was good. Blocking-wise, throwing people out. Hopefully, people can recognize him this year and he can get one. I know he wants one.”

In order to see that potentially come to fruition this year, the Red Sox first have to take care of Vazquez so he is not overworked and can instead be the best version of himself when he takes the field.

“We want the best version of Christian Vazquez,” said Cora. “I think we got a pretty good chance to see it this year.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts finish 12th and 17th in American League MVP voting

Red Sox teammates Alex Verdugo and Xander Bogaerts received one vote each in this year’s installment of American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, as announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Thursday night.

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu took home AL MVP honors.

Verdugo, 24, finished in 12th place thanks to one fifth-place vote, while Bogaerts, 28, finished in 17th place thanks to one 10th-place vote. Both votes came courtesy of The Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams, who was the only BBWAA member to include a Red Sox player on his ballot.

This marks the first time Verdugo has received an MVP vote in his four-year career. Bogaerts, meanwhile, was coming off a 2019 campaign in which he finished fifth in AL MVP voting, which followed up a 2018 campaign in which he finished 13th.

Offensively speaking, Bogaerts and Verdugo were the Red Sox’ best players throughout the course of the 2020 season. The former led the way by posting a wRC+ of 130 over 56 games, and the latter was right behind him with a 126 wRC+ over 53 contests.

Earlier this week, Sox manager Alex Cora tabbed Verdugo as Boston’s MVP this year, which is commendable when considering it was his first season with the club after coming over from the Dodgers in February.

Speaking of the Dodgers, former Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts, who was involved in the same trade as Verdugo last winter, finished second in National League MVP voting behind Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts wins fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts took home his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award and his first of the National League variety for right fielders on Tuesday night.

The 28-year-old had won the American League Gold Glove Award for right fielders in each of his last four seasons with the Sox from 2016 until 2019.

In his first go-around with the Dodgers, Betts logged 52 games and 438 2/3 innings in right field. While doing so, the Tennessee native led qualified National League right fielders in defensive runs saved (11), ultimate zone rate per 150 games (15.9), and Defense (3.7), according to FanGraphs. On top of that, he finished first among all right fielders in Outs Above Average (6), per Statcast.

By winning his fifth career and fifth consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Betts becomes the 30th outfielder in major-league history to win five Gold Gloves while also becoming the first outfielder to win as many as five straight since Ichiro Suzuki won 10 straight from 2001 until 2010.

Thanks mostly to Betts’ efforts, the eventual-World Series champion Dodgers had the top right field defense in the National League this past season going off multiple FanGraphs metrics. The Red Sox, meanwhile, saw their right field defense decline immensely in 2020, as the club finished 12th in the American League in DRS (-2), eighth in UZR/150 (1.8), and eighth in Defense (-1.4).

Betts, a former fifth-round draft pick, was traded to the Dodgers along with David Price back in February. Because he is under contract with Los Angeles through the end of the 2032 campaign, one might expect the four-time All-Star to add a few more Gold Gloves to his collection before all is said and done.

Red Sox’ Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts Take Home Third Career Silver Slugger Awards

For the third time in both of their respective careers, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts were named Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award winners on Thursday night, with Betts being one of three American League outfielders selected, and Bogaerts being the lone American League shortstop to win the award.

Betts, 27, followed up an MVP Award-winning 2018 season with another solid campaign at the plate in 2019, slashing .295/.391/.524 to go along with 29 home runs and 80 RBI over 150 games, 102 of which came batting out of the leadoff spot.

Among qualified American League outfielders this year, Betts ranked first in runs scored (135), second in OBP, and sixth in wRC+ (135). The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and Houston Astros’ George Springer took home the other two Silver Slugger Awards for AL outfielders.

The Tennessee native has now won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award in the same year three times, becoming the first Red Sox player to ever accomplish the feat. It sure would be nice to see him try and do it a fourth time.

Bogaerts, meanwhile, built on a strong 2018 season and broke out even more in ’19, as he posted a .309/.384/.555 slash line to go along with a career-best 33 homers and 117 runs driven in over 155 games.

In terms of qualified AL shortstops not named Alex Bregman, who played 61 games at short for the Houston Astros, the 27-year-old ranked first in hits, (190), first in doubles (52), first in RBI, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, and first in wRC+ (141).

Back in April, Bogaerts inked a six-year, $120 million contract extension with Boston. The extension does not come into effect until next year, but the Aruba native seemed to settle into his own in 2019 and establish himself as a veteran presence in the Red Sox’ clubhouse.

Even if Boston is looking to shred payroll this winter, trading Bogaerts should not be on the table.

J.D. Martinez, who won two Silver Slugger awards last year, was not named an award winner for designated hitters this year. That honor went to Minnesota Twins slugger Nelson Cruz.

Rafael Devers Is Your American League Player of the Week

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers has been named American League Player of the Week for August 12th through the 18th.

The 22-year-old put together quite the week at the plate against the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles, slashing .593/.633/1.185 with 10 extra-base hits, three of which being home runs, and 11 RBI over his last six games.

That stretch included a run of eight straight hits that began with a six-hit, four-double performance in Cleveland on Tuesday, marking the first time since at least 1908 that a major leaguer had achieved that feat, and extended into Wednesday.

Against the Orioles on Sunday, Devers became the first big leaguer this season to surpass the century mark in RBI with a two-run homer, his 27th, in the seventh inning of a 13-7 victory.

On the 2019 campaign as a whole, Devers leads American League third baseman in games played (123), runs scored (103), runs driven in (101), slugging percentage (.575), and is tied with Houston’s Alex Bregman atop the fWAR leaderboards (5.5).

2019 has certainly been a breakout year for Devers to say the least. In what is only his second full season in the majors, the breakout star appears to be a lock to finish in the top three for American League Most Valuable Player voting in the fall.