Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
2016, for a multitude of reasons and a wide variety of people, kinda sucked. Sandy Leon was not one of those people. A season that began with the coronation of Blake Swihart as an everyday catcher eventually saw the position fall into the hands of Leon as a result of injuries and institutional mismanagement. And while the year included Cy Young hardware dealt to Rick Porcello, there’s a case to be made that it was in fact Sandy Leon who was the most shockingly good member of the 2016 Red Sox.
Sandy’s 2016 was weird and honestly still doesn’t quite make sense, so let’s take a peek back at his role this past season and going forward.
What went right in 2016
Most things. Most things went right. Coming into the season, Leon had played a total of 75 Major League games in his career between 2012 and 2015. Those games had been, uh, uninspiring. Leon had one career dinger and – brace yourself for his slash line, please, you’ll thank me – a .187 career batting average. He had a .258 on-base and .225 slugging percentage. Safe to say expectations weren’t particularly high for the catcher as he entered his age-27 season.
But when Ryan Hanigan went down with an injury in early June, Leon got called up to the big league club. Christian Vazquez couldn’t hit his weight, and Blake Swihart, well, yeesh. All of that is to say that Sandy Leon got himself an opportunity, and he did not throw away his shot. (Yeah, I just quoted Hamilton, don’t @ me.)
In 78 games (again, more than in his entire career to this point) Sandy earned a .310/.369/.476 slash line, knocked seven homers and drove in 38 runs. Sprinkle in some stellar defense behind the plate and Leon was good for 2.5 fWAR.
The dude hit .390 in his first 40 games this year, with a slugging percentage over .600 and a 1.075 OPS. One way to describe Sandy Leon’s 2016 is Good. It was Good.
What went wrong in 2016
Not that much. Leon exceeded all possible expectations en route to a career year that, frankly, he is unlikely to repeat.
The catcher did turn into something of a pumpkin down the stretch, seemingly remembering that he is Sandy Leon and not Johnny Bench. In the month of September, he hit .213/.286/.253 in his final 23 games. The Sox went 16-7 in those games, though, so it didn’t quite matter. Leon’s offensive production was fun and impressive, but it was never pivotal; getting offense out of the catcher’s spot was a luxury, so even when Leon came back down to earth, it was hard to blame him.
What to expect in 2017
Oh, boy. Is it bad if the answer to this part is “I have no idea please leave me alone so I don’t have to make bad predictions?” The catcher’s spot in the Red Sox 2017 lineup seems like it’ll be filled by whomever Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell like in February and March. From all indications and reports surrounding the Chris Sale trade, Dombrowski had no interest in moving on from Swihart, or at least in selling low on him as he recovers from a tough injury.
A year removed from being surrounded by High-End Prospect Hype, it seems the best-case scenario for the Sox is for Swihart to start. Ideally, he’d play a sustainable defensive catcher while holding on to the high-end offensive skills that drew him such rave reviews climbing the farm system. But after being moved from behind the plate and tossed haphazardly into Fenway’s treacherous left field, who knows where Swihart is at? And, much as I love the rifle attached Christian Vazquez’s right shoulder, I have no confidence in his ability to hit at a level anywhere close to tolerable.
And there’s Leon, coming off an all-around great season that he is unlikely to repeat. However, he should be given a chance to try; 2016 wasn’t a fluke until he can’t replicate it. Working against Sandy’s chances is the fact that he posted an almost comical BABIP of .392, second-highest in the majors among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances. After the Winter Meetings and the flurry of moves that accompanied them, the 2017 Red Sox roster has come into focus. We have a sense of who will platoon at DH and who will be stationed on the corners. The only position that seems truly blurry is behind the plate, and it’ll be a fun battle to watch come Spring Training.
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