The Red Sox catching situation has been in flux all season long.
The team originally intended to have the stellar defensive duo of rising star Christian Vazquez and veteran Ryan Hanigan splitting time behind the plate. However, a season-ending injury to Vazquez threw a wrench in those plans and the Red Sox were forced to acquire backup catcher Sandy Leon days before the start of the season. The tandem of Hanigan and Leon appeared to be working fine until May 1, when Hanigan broke his knuckle on a foul ball, leading to the Red Sox promoting top prospect Blake Swihart. Swihart has made strides since his initial promotion, but it’s clear that the Red Sox rushed him to the majors and, with Hanigan likely to return in a few weeks, it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox play their catching tandem for the remainder of the season.
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Hanigan was no star catcher for the Red Sox, but he had been doing his job and then some through his 19 pre-injury games. The 34-year old didn’t provide much at the plate in terms of power or average, but he reached base at an impressive rate as he slashed .222/.354/.319. However, Hanigan’s value has always hinged on his defensive performance and he was as good as ever in that regard. He only caught 23% of potential base stealers, but he did not allow a passed ball and pitch framing metrics conclude that he has saved the team 0.8 runs above average this season.
Hanigan is expected to return to the Red Sox before the All-Star break and he could begin a rehab assignment as soon as next week. With that being said, the most intriguing part of Hanigan’s return is how the Red Sox plan to handle Swihart. The Red Sox could either keep him in the majors, where he would not play quite as often but would garner valuable MLB experience in a lost season, or option him to Triple-A Pawtucket to receive a starter’s workload behind the dish.
Swihart has been nothing special at the plate this season, slashing .216/.263/.288 in 34 major league games. However, his priority has clearly been his defense and he has been above-average in most respects defensively. In a season where the Red Sox are unlikely to contend, it would make sense to let Swihart get some of his lumps out of the way so that he can be an MLB regular next season. However, at the same time, letting his develop a bit more in Pawtucket while also preventing him from acquiring Super Two status could be a longterm benefit for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox’ ultimate decision with Swihart could come down to his performance in the weeks until Hanigan returns. If Swihart is able to go for a run at the plate while maintaining his solid defense, then the obvious choice is to leave him in the majors and gain some experience. However, if he is unable to do that, sending him down is the best move for the Red Sox to make. Either way, Hanigan’s upcoming return puts a major spotlight on Swihart in the coming weeks.