Red Sox option catcher Blake Swihart to Pawtucket

Aug 22, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) chases a ball against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 22, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) chases a ball against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have optioned Blake Swihart to Triple-A Pawtucket, alleviating the three-headed logjam at catcher.

So much for the concerns of how Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell would juggle the playing time between his trio of catchers.

Yesterday we learned that Christian Vazquez would be called up to take the spot of recently demoted outfielder Rusney Castillo, which left many to wonder how the Red Sox could feasibly carry three catchers on the big league roster. Now we know that was never the intention.

The Red Sox have optioned catcher Blake Swihart to Pawtucket and recalled infielder Marco Hernandez to take his place.

This means that Vazquez will now be the primary catcher in Boston, backed up by veteran Ryan Hanigan. Vazquez began the season in the minors so that the organization could take a cautious approach with his return from a year absence to recover from Tommy John surgery.

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The promotion of Vazquez less than two weeks into the season shows a sense of urgency from a team that has stumbled out of the gate to a mediocre 4-4 start. Most troubling has been the performance of a pitching staff that ranks next to last in the league with a collective 5.40 ERA, which is an area where Vazquez’s elite defensive skills can help. Red Sox pitchers have gushed over Vazquez’s ability to take charge behind the plate and his outstanding pitch framing ability has been known to tilt borderline strike calls in his favor.

Vazquez has never been known for his bat, having hit a mere .240 with a .617 OPS in his only big league action back in 2014, but the Red Sox don’t need much from him at the plate. Boston is already second in the league in scoring average at 5.5 runs per game, so putting Vazquez in the lineup in place of Swihart isn’t going to change that. While Swihart has a higher ceiling, with the potential to become the game’s top hitting catcher, the impact that Vazquez’s elite defense can have on this struggling starting rotation is more valuable right now.

Besides, Vazquez has looked fantastic at the plate so far in Pawtucket, collecting 6 hits and 7 walks in his first 20 plate appearances.

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As for Swihart, it’s clear that the 24-year old would benefit from a bit more seasoning at the minor league level after being rushed to the big leagues last year in the wake of a rash of injuries at the position. Keep in mind that he didn’t begin playing the position until late in his high school career and had only three years of catching experience in the minors before the Red Sox called him up. Swihart has made great strides defensively over the past year, but remains a bit raw. Now that Vazquez is healthy, the Red Sox can afford to send Swihart back to Pawtucket to continue his development behind the dish.

Attempting to find sufficient playing time for three catchers at the major league level was never a feasible long-term solution. Vazquez and Swihart both need to play more than three days per week, while Joe Kelly‘s success with Hanigan catching him warrants keeping the 35-year old veteran behind the plate for his starts.

Hanigan is in the last guaranteed year of his contract, with an affordable $3.75 million team option for next season. That could make him an appealing trade chip at the deadline if the Red Sox want to cash in from their surplus to bolster another area of the roster. Otherwise they could allow the veteran to walk after this season if they are prepared to unleash the tandem of Vazquez and Swihart next year.

Sending Swihart to the minors also gives the organization an opportunity to experiment with him at other positions in order to increase his versatility. The team has already announced that Swihart will begin taking fly balls in left field in addition to serving as a catcher in Pawtucket. This could be useful looking down the line, as it would allow Vazquez to remain the primary catcher while still keeping Swihart’s bat in the lineup on days that he isn’t catching.

A full-time position change isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, as it would significantly decrease his trade value if the team were ever to entertain the idea of including Swihart in a package for a more reliable No. 2 starting pitcher.

Carrying three catchers would essentially be wasting a valuable bench spot, which instead they will use on Hernandez. The 23-year old infielder was impressive during spring training and is off to a .286/.375/.429 start in 21 at-bats down in Pawtucket.

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Having this type of impressive depth at the catcher position is a luxury most teams would kill for, so it’s certainly a good problem to have for the Red Sox. While it may seem like a step back for Swihart, going back to the minors to work on his craft as a catcher will ultimately end up being the best thing for him.