Former Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was impressed with what he saw from rookie Blake Swihart last season.
Blake Swihart had a solid first season in the big leagues for the Boston Red Sox last season, showing flashes of the offensive potential that made him a blue chip prospect while continuing to develop behind the plate.
Count Jason Varitek among those that were impressed. The former Red Sox catcher and team captain gave a glowing endorsement for the 23-year old during a conference call with the media on Monday after being elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
"“As far as what I think about Blake’s year last year, it was phenomenal,” said Varitek, per NESN.com’s Sam Galanis. “I think he’s continuing to grow as a catcher. I think he does a lot of things extremely well behind the plate that will continue to advance the more and more he catches.“And he has a very difficult thing to do to still develop and compete at the major league level. I think he did both. He’s a better player at the end of the year then he was at the beginning of the year.”"
Swihart began last season down in Triple-A Pawtucket where he worked on refining his skills behind the plate, which lagged behind the potential of his bat that was already deemed ready for the majors. Mounting injuries at the catcher position forced the Red Sox to promote Swihart ahead of schedule, resulting in a rocky start to his big league career.
The young catcher struggled out of the gate, particularly on defense. He ended up finishing last among major league catchers with -16 defensive runs saved and allowed the second most passed balls with 16. However, as Varitek alluded to, Swihart made steady progress as the season went along. His rookie year came with a sharp learning curve, but the experience will help his development. He may never be the elite defensive backstop that fellow catcher Christian Vazquez has become, but Swihart is making progress.
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We also witnessed Swihart progressively improve at the plate. When he was first called up to the Red Sox roster in early May his focus had to be on learning to work with the pitching staff and his responsibilities behind the plate, which put his offensive game on the back burner. As a result, he hit only .241 with a .602 OPS before the break. His bat would start to heat up once he started to get more comfortable with the adjustments to the major leagues, leading to a second half in which he hit .303 with an .805 OPS.
Varitek is arguably the greatest catcher in franchise history, with three All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award on his resume. He also caught a record four no-hitters and was a key contributor to two World Series teams during his 15 year career with the Red Sox. It’s fair to say that he knows a thing or two about catching, which makes his high praise for Swihart all the more significant.
Swihart still has a ways to go in order to reach the lofty ceiling that he’s projected for, but his rookie season was a promising start. If he continues to develop into the star scouts believe he will be, perhaps he’ll one day surpass Varitek as the greatest catcher in franchise history.