Red Sox Blake Swihart Isn’t Cut A Break, May Need Surgery

Jun 4, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) runs to home during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) runs to home during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Swihart‘s injured ankle isn’t healing fast enough for him to return to the Boston Red Sox. It may require surgery, meaning more time away from Boston & MLB play.

Steve Adams of rounded up two tweets that came up about Swihart and his issues with the ankle injury, one from Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald and Tim Britton of The Providence Journal:

Adams added that Swihart “hasn’t played since June 4, and surgery would seemingly jeopardize his chances of returning at all in 2016. Boston had been playing the 24-year-old top prospect in left field after concerns about his glovework behind the plate surfaced.”

As tight-lipped as Red Sox manager John Farrell usually is about injuries or anything personal with his players, Farrell’s words being inferred to mean surgery means that it’s likely a foregone conclusion. That news must be devastating to Swihart, given the current climate in Boston.

The 24-year-old switch-hitter was drafted to the Red Sox in the first round, 26th overall, in 2011 as a teenager. The plan was for him to battle it out with another prospect named Christian Vazquez to become the Red Sox starting catcher for the foreseeable future. In early 2015, the initial reports were that, while Vazquez played defense a bit better and could throw out base stealers like a wily veteran, Swihart’s bat was vastly superior with the potential to get even better.

That same year, in spring training, Vazquez required Tommy John surgery on that weapon of an arm, paving the way for Swihart’s big break. In 84 games, Swihart hit .274/.319/.392 with five home runs and 31 RBIs, which isn’t bad considering he was often near the bottom of the batting order to start his MLB career. His catching was decent, but his ability to throw out base stealers was nothing like Vazquez. Swihart threw out 16 of 57 potential base stealers for a 28% success rate. Vazquez’s reputation deterred many men from trying to steal on him, as he threw out 15 of 29 base stealers for a 52% rate in 2014.

With three ugly passed balls in six games to start this season, Swihart was passed up for the newly-healed Vazquez behind the plate. The Red Sox still wanted to get Swihart into the lineup, so he was sent back down to the minors to work on becoming a left fielder, instead. In late May, he was called up again and played 13 games for Boston in the gaping hole that has been the left field position for a couple of years. It seemed that the job was Swihart’s to lose, until he lost it with his left ankle sprain.

If and when the surgery happens, Swihart now has to worry about how the catching situation has changed since the injury. Vazquez played 51 games before the Red Sox felt that his .226 batting average simply wasn’t cutting it, allowing for Sandy Leon, once given up as minor-league catching fodder, to light up MLB pitching with his red-hot bat as the starting catcher. Ryan Hanigan and newly-acquired Bryan Holaday are backing up Leon at present.

Left field? No spot there, either. Between top prospect Andrew Benintendi being called up and putting on a show with his bat and veteran Chris Young coming back soon from his own injury, not to mention Bryce Brentz and utility player Brock Holt, the position is stocked up with talent already.

Even when Swihart eventually returns from his surgery and is able to play again, it won’t be for a long time, maybe not until 2017. In that kind of time, the Red Sox may forget about him or, at least, forget to remember him when they start planning for next season. They won’t know what they have in the fully-healed Swihart until next year, but they will know what they have in many other players who finish the season with the big club. A trade? A minor-league limbo? A comeback, with a vengeance? Who knows? At this point, not even Swihart. That can’t possibly sit well with him, either.