Red Sox: Catcher Blake Swihart could still play multiple positions

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 intend to transition Blake Swihart back to catcher, but he could still see time down the line at other positions.

Blake Swihart‘s role with the Boston Red Sox remains one of the most perplexing questions entering spring training.

The Red Sox asked Swihart to focus primarily on catching over the offseason and he’s expected to be given the opportunity to compete for a spot on the roster at that position. This means the team is backtracking from their decision to shift him to the outfield, at least for now.

Swihart opened last season as the starting catcher, only to lose the job after a mere six starts. Boston’s pitching staff struggled with their command with Swihart as their battery mate, while the young catcher had his own issues behind the plate. He never looked comfortable at the position, couldn’t keep the ball in front of him and wasn’t able to control opposing base runners.

A quick demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket afforded Swihart the time to learn a new position. He was transitioned to left field, where he adapted quickly enough to return to the big leagues in late May. It seemed that the position change would work out, until he collided with a wall and suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

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Now that spot in left field is occupied by rising star Andrew Benintendi, leaving Swihart in search of another position where he can find playing time. Catcher remains his preferred spot, but there’s no guarantee that the Red Sox will have room for him there either, with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez in the way.

The Red Sox remain high on Swihart’s potential. While they have little doubt that he’s capable of being a catcher at the major league level, the team also views his versatility as an asset.

Peter Gammons wrote on his website,, that we may in time see Swihart catch 90 games, while also receiving playing time at DH, the outfield, first base and third. While the mix of different positions could ultimately lead to more playing time, it’s interesting to note that the bulk of those opportunities are still projected to come at the catcher position.

A catcher’s most important job is to develop a relationship with his pitching staff. Red Sox catching instructor Dana LeVangie believes that Swihart has it in him to build the necessary trust with pitchers.

"“Swihart has that sense, that ability to relate to and build pitchers,” LeVangie told Gammons. “He’s a really good worker. He was a good wrestler with the legs that goes with that. He’s obviously an athlete. It’s unrealistic to expect him to be a polished catcher right now. We understand that.”"

The best option for Swihart’s future would be to start him in Pawtucket, where he can continue to develop his skills as a catcher. Keep in mind that he’ll turn 25 in April and has only started 280 games at catcher over his five years in the minors and brief time in Boston. For comparison sake, Vazquez, who is only a year older than him, has caught 472 games, despite having an entire season wiped out by injury.

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We know Swihart can hit at any level, but he needs more seasoning to polish his defensive skills. Triple-A is the only place where he’ll find enough opportunity to work on his catching, given the depth at the position in Boston.

Once he refines his defensive skills, Swihart will return to Boston. If one of the other catchers on the roster were to succumb to injury or a prolonged slump, Swihart could step in to take their place.

When it’s not his turn to catch, the Red Sox could keep his bat in the lineup by using him at other positions. Similar to how Brock Holt has become invaluable for his versatility, Swihart can fill a similar role – only his bat carries more upside and he’s capable of playing catcher.

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Moving Swihart back to catcher is what’s best for his long-term value, while keeping an open mind about when and where to utilize him opens the door for more playing time in the short-term.