Boston Red Sox Report Cards: Blake Swihart


Now that the 2015 season is in the books, the BoSox Injection staff will hand out their final report cards, grading the performances of each member of the Boston Red Sox roster based on their expectations entering the season.

. BLAKE SWIHART . B-. . Catcher

2015 Stats: .275/.319/.392, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 0.4 WAR

The Red Sox anticipated that Christian Vazquez would be their primary catcher this season, with Ryan Hanigan providing a veteran presence to back him up. Those plans were washed away when Vazquez suffered an elbow injury that required season-ending Tommy John surgery, which bumped Hanigan up to the top of the depth chart and left the Red Sox scouring the scrap heap for another backup. When Hanigan went down with a fractured hand that would sideline him for two months, it left the team with little choice but to call up Blake Swihart from Pawtucket.

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The problem was that Swihart wasn’t quite ready yet. We had long suspected that his bat was capable of hanging around at the major league level, but it was his defense that needed more seasoning. Catcher is the most demanding position on the field, so it was asking a lot for the 23-year old to rush to the big leagues while he was still learning. The results were predictably unspectacular.

While Swihart improved as the season progressed, it was never realistic to believe he could match the pitch framing mastery of Vazquez or the game-calling savvy of the veteran Hanigan. As a result, the pitching staff struggled, posting a 4.57 ERA with Swihart behind the dish. The rookie catcher also struggled to keep the ball in front of him, allowing 16 passed balls, which was second most in the majors despite starting only 78 games. Swihart struggled to control the running game, throwing out only 28 percent of base runners and his overall defense cost the Red Sox a major league worst 16 runs.

His defense is still a work in progress, but Swihart did prove that he can hit. It took him a few weeks to catch up after getting his feet wet in the majors, but eventually he unleashed the offense we knew was coming. Swihart hit .303/.353/.452 after the break, collecting 4 of his 5 homers and adding 20 RBI in the second half. His strong finish would lift him to the top of the league at his position in batting average, while finishing 4th in OPS among AL catchers with 300+ plate appearances.

The Red Sox have a wealth of talent at the catcher position, which is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Difficult decisions are ahead, once Vazquez proves healthy enough to reclaim a role on the team. Do the Red Sox value offense or defense at the position? Each has the potential to be the best in the league on one side, but they may both struggle with the other half of the game. If only we could combine their talents, but unfortunately Blakian Vazhart isn’t walking into that clubhouse.

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Swihart is the more likely of the two to become a future All-Star, given that voters lean toward offensive production, yet Vazquez’s defense could make him the more valuable of the two in the long run. Swihart would likely return more in a trade, so we can’t rule that out at some point if the Red Sox are confident in Vazquez being their primary catcher.

Don’t expect that to happen this winter though, as they need to make sure Vazquez is healthy and returned to form before considering moving Swihart. It would be wise to start Vazquez in the minors next season to give him time to work on his swing following a lengthy layoff.

Looking ahead to 2016, Swihart should be the team’s Opening Day starter behind the plate. His bat is well on its way to making him a star, but he needs to work on his defense in order to hold off Vazquez from eventually cutting into his playing time.