Red Sox rushing Blake Swihart? Think again.


When Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reported that Red Sox interim catcher Ryan Hanigan would undergo surgery for a fractured knuckle, there was really only one option for the Red Sox. That option, of course, was to promote top prospect Blake Swihart to make his major league debut after 36 total games in Triple-A. Promoting Swihart is a necessary move for the present, with no other viable alternatives in the organization, but will it hurt the young catcher’s future development?

The answer to that question is probably not.

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Baseball America ranked Swihart as the top catching prospect in the minor leagues this season (and the 17th best in all of baseball), so let’s look at some historical context for the top-ranked catching prospects in recent seasons and their progressions through the minor leagues.

Austin Hedges (2014), Travis d’Arnaud (2013), Jesus Montero (2010-12), Matt Wieters (2008-09), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2006-07), Joe Mauer (2005) represent the top-rated catching prospects by Baseball America over the last ten years. Of these players, Mauer, Saltalamacchia, Wieters, and d’Arnaud are the only ones who have established themselves as major league starters, so we’ll focus on them.

Among those players, Swihart would fall roughly in the middle in terms of time spent in Triple-A. Only d’Arnaud spent even close to a full season in Triple-A ball, still playing just 101 games, and Saltalamacchia played roughly half a season (74 games). However, Wieters and Mauer, the two who are legitimate starting catchers, only spent 39 and a whopping 5 games in Triple-A, respectively.

Swihart has been compared to a Joe Mauer-lite during his time in the minor leagues due to his athleticism and smooth, contact-oriented swing. Obviously one can’t project a prospect to have a career like Mauer’s, as the native Minnesotan has an MVP award and career .318/.401/.458 slash line under his belt. However, he has similar tools to Mauer and, as Mauer was able to transition so successfully to the major leagues, similar success could be in the stars for Swihart.

Swihart has also been compared to Giants’ star Buster Posey and, though Posey was never the top-rated catcher by Baseball America, I’ll let that slide for now. Posey played in 82 total games in Triple-A, significantly more than Swihart’s 36, but he skipped Double-A altogether. If one counts games spent in the top two levels of the minors, Swihart’s 128 games trump Posey’s 82.

Historically, catchers have moved slowly through the lower minors as they get a feel for catching everyday and the wear and tear that comes with it. However, star catchers have hurtled through the upper levels of the minors, often spending less than a season combined at Double-A and Triple-A. As Swihart spent almost all of last season in Double-A Portland, while receiving some additional season in Triple-A, he is as prepared as most other promising catchers.

Besides, even if the Red Sox were rushing Swihart relative to his counterparts, promoting the 23-year old is clearly the right move for the team. He is the only healthy catcher that could be expected to hold down a major league job in the organization and, let’s face it, he was likely going to take over at some point this season anyway. So, tell us what you think. Should the Red Sox have waited to promote Swihart or is this the right move for his present and future?