The Boston Red Sox look to be in good shape behind the dish in the long term with both Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart sitting in the high minors. At the big league level, they have a couple of solid catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross, but both will be age 37 on Opening Day. They also have Ryan Lavarnway, but he has never progressed enough to be a dependable defensive catcher, and he certainly doesn’t hit enough to make up for it, which has led to the Red Sox trying him out at first base this spring.
There is a sixth catcher in camp this year, one who is on the 40-man roster, is no longer considered a prospect thanks to the two super prospects the Red Sox have, and the fact he is 27 without even a taste of the big leagues despite parts of four seasons in Triple-A. His name is Dan Butler, and he just might end up as a vital player for the defending champions this year.
Butler will not wow anyone with the bat as he is the owner of a career minor league triple slash line of .259/.356/.429, but did show some good pop with a career high 14 home runs in just 323 trips to the plate in 2013. His real value comes in his defense, where he has thrown out nearly a third of all would-be base stealers and has been praised for the way he handles a pitching staff.
In 2013, Ross missed a good chunk of the season due to a concussion, and Pierzynski put together his 13th consecutive season of 110 or more games behind the dish. There is a good chance a third catcher will be needed, and with Lavarnway having tied a MLB record of four past balls in a single inning back on August 6th, granted with a knuckleballer on the hill, he isn’t exactly a favorite among Boston coaches.
Butler will probably start the season down at Triple-A Pawtucket, where there will be a logjam of catchers, as Vazquez and Lavarnway are also expected to start the season there. There is hope that Vazquez might be ready for a big league call-up by September, so he will surely be the primary catcher at Pawtucket. This means Butler can either serve as a backup in the minors, or a backup in the big leagues. If there is an injury to either of the veteran catchers in the spring, or early in the season, look for it to be Butler, not Lavarnway, that gets the call, and don’t be shocked if he hits around .250 but flirts with a double digit home run pace if he gets regular playing time.