Commentary

Jorge Vazquez blocked by who's on first

Spring's hot hitter might be Scranton-bound because Yanks need to rest A-Rod, not Tex

Updated: March 6, 2011, 2:39 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jorge Vazquez is batting a ridiculous .583.

His on-base percentage is the same, his slugging percentage a ludicrous 1.500, his OPS a just-as-outlandish 2.083.

And the odds of his making the New York Yankees' roster are precisely zero.

On a team renowned for its hitting -- Bronx Bombers, remember? -- no one has hit the ball remotely as well as Jorge Vazquez has this spring.

[+] EnlargeJorge Vazquez
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesJorge Vazquez's bat is legit, but his glovework is an unknown.

"He's got some thunder," said Billy Eppler, the Yankees' senior director of pro personnel.

Through the first seven games of Grapefruit League action, Vazquez was the only Yankee with as many as two home runs. (Curtis Granderson is the only other Yankee to have left the building at all this spring.)

His five RBIs -- he had two more on a fourth-inning double in Saturday's 10-8 loss to Washington -- are twice as many as his nearest competitor on the team. Last year at Scranton, he nearly matched Jesus Montero, the Yankees' blue-chip prospect, for home runs and RBIs (18 and 62 compared with 21 and 75) in 47 fewer games.

And yet, thanks to the broken foot suffered by Francisco Cervelli this week, Montero is practically assured of going north with the big club as the backup catcher. Vazquez is most likely headed back to Scranton, the thankless role backing up first baseman Mark Teixeira probably destined to be divided among Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and maybe even Jorge Posada.

This is not injustice, just reality when you are a 10-year veteran of the Mexican League -- Vazquez will turn 29 on March 15 -- and have committed as many as 16 errors in 59 games at third base, as Vazquez did as a member of the Mexico City Tigers in 2003.

And that, more than anything else, is why when the Yankees head north, Vazquez will stop in Scranton, because the backup infielder they take with them is going to have to be more useful at third base than at first, since the regular third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, is likely to need more days off than Teixeira.

"That's important," Joe Girardi said, without quite rubber-stamping Chavez's ticket to the Bronx and Vazquez's to Scranton.

Still, the manager conceded that Vazquez is "definitely opening eyes with what he's doing. He's swung the bat tremendously."

There aren't many jobs to be won or lost in a Yankees spring training camp -- this year, they're interviewing only for a fifth starter and two backup infielders -- but in most other camps, a spring like the one Vazquez is having might open more than just eyes. Perhaps even a roster spot.

But with Chavez, a proven major league third baseman who isn't having a bad spring himself -- he had an RBI single Saturday to raise his spring average to .364 -- on the roster, the chances of Vazquez making the team are remote at best.

In eight seasons of Mexican League ball, four with the Mexico City Tigers and two each with the Angelopolis Tigers and the Tigres de Quintana Roo, Vazquez hit 130 home runs, knocked in 430 runs and batted as high as .379 in 2005, the same season he hit a career-high 35 homers.

He was scouted by Lee Sigmund, who also brought the Yankees Alfredo Aceves, Ramiro Peña and Manny Banuelos.

But although the league is officially listed as the equivalent of Triple-A ball, the quality of pitching can be suspect and Eppler said that in some cases, players who couldn't get out of A ball in the U.S. play successfully in the Mexican League.

And yet, Vazquez proved his bat was the goods last season in Scranton when his HR and RBI numbers compared favorably to those of Montero. Over the same number of games, Vazquez's 18 and 62 project to 29 and 99.

"He's hit everywhere he's went," Girardi said. "That's his M.O."

A product of Culiacan, Mexico, the same town that produced another big hitter -- Julio Cesar Chavez -- it is easy to conclude that defensively, Vazquez is more like the Panamanian great Roberto Duran, a.k.a. Hands of Stone.

But Girardi and Eppler say Vazquez's problems lie not in his hands or arm, but in his legs.

"He's a big guy, and I think when you look at bigger people, the one thing you question is how great is their range?" Girardi said of the 6-foot, 225-pound Vazquez. "He hasn't shown me anything defensively that he can't play defense. But he hasn't had a ton of chances."

"I wouldn't say his hands are bad," Eppler said. "It's more his range that is an area that always needs to be addressed with him. He won't hurt you. He's not a liability out there."

Vazquez handled seven throws flawlessly at first base Saturday, but again, the need is for someone who can spell A-Rod at third, not Tex at first. And with both Posada and Andruw Jones on the roster, there probably isn't room to carry another DH, either.

"The only thing that usually holds guys like this back," Eppler said, "is opportunity."

Vazquez has thunder in his bat, and he'll probably get plenty of opportunity to use it this season. In Scranton, not the Bronx.

• • •

CC Sabathia, the ace of the staff and the one pitcher the Yankees don't have to worry about, became the first starter to get shelled this spring, allowing five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings on six hits, including a home run by Jeff Frazier. Girardi said Sabathia's spot in the rotation is "probably" not imperiled. He was kidding. ... Joba Chamberlain also got smoked for the first time this spring, allowing two runs in an inning of work. ... The Yankees came back from a 7-0 deficit to take the lead after an eight-run fourth, but Daniel Turpen gave up the lead in the seventh and Romulo Sanchez allowed the Nationals to tack on another run in the eighth. The Yankees' spring record stands at 2-5. ... Montero took a foul ball off the knuckle of the ring finger on his right hand, but Girardi said he was OK. "As a catcher, you have to tough it out, just grin and bear it." ... Andrew Brackman, sidelined for three days earlier in the week with a groin strain, threw 10 pitches of live batting practice and then one inning of a simulated game. Said Girardi: "He got three outs pretty quickly." ... Rafael Soriano, who still hasn't pitched in a game, will throw BP on Monday morning, which should thrill Yankees hitters. The last time Soriano threw BP, on Friday, Girardi said he "had never seen so many swings and misses in a batting practice before." Soriano should get into a game early next week. ... Not so for Mariano Rivera, who Girardi said was "still a ways away. Further away than Soriano." No date was given for Rivera's first game action. ... Phil Hughes will start Sunday's game against the Astros in Kissimmee, to be followed by (in no particular order) Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, Brian Anderson, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Andy Sisco and Eric Wordekemper. No TV or radio coverage.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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