The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at catcher Blake Swihart.
The Boston Red Sox were already thin at the catcher position once Christian Vazquez was lost in the spring to a season-ending elbow injury, but that depth was tested even further in early May when the injury imp bit Ryan Hanigan as well. Enter Blake Swihart, who was pushed to the big leagues ahead of schedule out of necessity at a time when he should have been polishing up his skills behind the plate in Pawtucket.
The 23-year old struggled out of the gate, hitting a mere .225 with only three extra-base hits over 71 at-bats in May. The results were predictable considering the priorities for the young catcher were his responsibilities behind the plate and learning to work with the pitching staff. This proved to be the biggest adjustment for Swihart as he made the leap to the big leagues, as he struggled defensively. His defense cost the Red Sox with -16 defensive runs saved, worst among all major league catchers. His 16 passed balls were the second most in the majors and he threw out an underwhelming 28 percent of base runners.
Swihart could have used more time to develop in the minor leagues, but while learning on the fly in Boston wasn’t ideal he still managed to make great strides as the season went on. His production at the plate increased in each of his first three months, culminating in a scorching August in which he hit .373 with a .931 OPS. He would finish the year with a .274 average that led all American League catchers with a minimum of 300 plate appearances, while finishing 4th in that group with a .712 OPS.
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With a year of experience under his belt we can expect a breakout season is on the horizon from Swihart. As a top prospect in the Red Sox organization he was always praised for his ability with the bat, which could soon put him in the conversation for best offensive catcher in the league. He may not have any Gold Glove awards in his future, but his defense showed progress as the season wore on.
When the season begins in April we should expect to see Swihart as the team’s primary catcher. There is still a question of if Vazquez will overtake him as the catcher of the future, with the offense vs. defense debate raging throughout Red Sox Nation. Swihart’s name is often floated around in the rumor mill by those that expect the Red Sox to place a higher value on defense at the position, but a move is highly unlikely until Vazquez proves he is healthy. We will likely see Swihart on Opening Day, with the veteran Hanigan backing him up. Vazquez should be brought along slowly after a year off, but should eventually make his presence felt.
Would the Red Sox carry three catchers once Vazquez proves himself ready to return? Probably not, at least not before September roster expansion, but if all three catchers are healthy then they may consider capitalizing on Swihart’s athleticism by trying him at other positions. There are a number of potential ways to get Vazquez’s elite defense behind the dish while keep Swihart’s bat in the lineup, so don’t assume that one of them will have to be moved at some point.
At this point, Swihart is still expected to be a core member of the future of this Red Sox team. Watching him develop into one of the best hitters at his position will be one of the joys of the upcoming season.