Red Sox: How can Blake Swihart catch on with Boston?

Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) misses a pop foul against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) misses a pop foul against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Swihart may be on the outside looking in as a catcher for the Boston Red Sox. How can Swihart get back as number one?

How do you win a job when you have two strikes against you and a manager who may have already condemned you to that baseball gulag known as Pawtucket? That is the situation currently faced by Blake Swihart as he is returning to the fold for the Boston Red Sox from a season-ending ankle injury.

The two strikes are obvious – Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon. Leon is the feel good story on the 2016 squad, as a ham and egg minor leaguer suddenly finds the bat is issued for something besides just decoration. Leon finished the 2016 schedule at .310 despite a September slide in which he hit a paltry .213.

Was that sudden drop a return to offensive reality or just the blahs from a long schedule? Leon was under the “Mendoza Line” entering the season, but the one positive is a big one – Leon is a dependable defensive catcher.

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Likewise the same applies for Vazquez, who will not give any pitchers – other than Dellin Betances – the shakes. Vaz is a master at framing pitches and prior to surgery on his frayed arm had a 52% CS rating. If the recovery is complete you may see Mini Yadi again.

Swihart is not the defensive whiz of the two incumbents, but he certainly is not defensive road kill. Where his plus sits is the ability of the soon to be 25-year-old to hit. A switch-hitter who can also actually run compared to Vazquez and Leon, who pound the base paths like sloths. The upside is noted with Swihart, who was often mentioned as a potential trade target by those needing a catcher.

Management has cleared the path for Swihart to be in the catching mix – remember he was the Opening Day starter in 2016. Circumstances moved Swihart to left field, but with the emergence of baseball’s number one prospect – Andrew Benintendi – slated for left that means a big “See ya.”

Where it falls apart for Swihart is the numbers and I don’t mean all those statistical references, but the one that says “option.” The option is the final potential nail in the coffin for Swihart being the Red Sox catcher. You don’t carry three anymore – this is no longer baseball of the 1950’s – and the outfield has the talented Chris Young and versatile Brock Holt ready for picket duty.

How does Swihart make the team?

The one potential is the one that ended Vazquez in 2015 and Swihart in 2016 – injury. Catching is a risky position and the potential of injury always surfaces and viola! You are on the roster! Ditto to a sudden infirmary route for an outfielder or two. A quick return to where Swihart did demonstrate reasonable skills.

A second possibility is Swihart lights it up in spring training. You hit a hard .400 while the competition is rolling two hoppers for easy outs you start to look good. The Sox led the league in runs, but with David Ortiz and his 127 RBI gone the Sox may wish to sacrifice defense for hitting.

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The ugly fact – at least for Swihart – is his days will be numbered since the numbers work against him. He’ll be shuffled off to Pawtucket, where he will have to further opportunity to refine his backstop skills. If Leon and Vazquez become a dynamic duo you may see Dave Dombrowski do what he has done best in Boston – dispose of young talent in a trade.