Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart heating up in Winter Ball

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30: Blake Swihart
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30: Blake Swihart /

Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart is off to a scorching start in the Dominican Winter League. Can he make the big league roster next year?

The next step on Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart‘s path to revitalizing his career is off to a great start.

Swihart is currently playing for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, where he’s been tearing the cover off the ball. He’s 10-for-24 (.417) with two doubles, four RBI, and a 1.017 OPS through eight games.

The plan is to have Swihart catch 3-4 games per week for Escogido, according to ESPN’s Scott Lauber.

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Swihart was once a promising prospect in the Red Sox organization who most assumed would be the team’s catcher of the future. After modest success as a rookie in 2015, Swihart’s defensive deficiencies behind the plate prompted the Red Sox to move him to the outfield. He briefly showed flashes of potential in left field last year before injuring his ankle in a collision with the wall at Fenway Park.

The new front office regime under Dave Dombrowski decided that Swihart holds more value as a catcher – either to the team or as a potential trade chip. He started the transition back to catching in the minor leagues this year but hit only .187 with a .545 OPS in 62 games.

It’s a small sample size, but his success in the Dominican League at least confirms that Swihart hasn’t completely forgotten how to hit. The long layoff following ankle surgery last year and the focus he had to put into improving his defense may have led to his production at the plate falling off. A strong offseason will be vital to Swihart rebuilding his confidence and showing the Red Sox that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

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The Red Sox organization once believed Swihart had the upside to develop into an All-Star caliber catcher who could handle the bulk of the playing time behind the plate while Christian Vazquez would serve as a defensive-minded backup. Vazquez’ bat emerged this year while Swihart declined significantly.

Vazquez will enter next season as the team’s primary catcher but Swihart should have the opportunity to compete for the backup spot. Sandy Leon showed that his breakout 2016 season was a flash in the pan, opening the door for Swihart to replace him. Swihart will need his strong showing in Winter Ball to carry over into spring training and prove that he has improved defensively.

If Boston decides that Leon still holds value as Chris Sale‘s personal catcher then that may be enough to warrant handing him the backup job no matter what Swihart does. However, a strong spring could build up his trade value enough for the Red Sox to consider dealing him to a team that can offer him playing time in the majors. They have no reason to sell low on Swihart but if he shows he’s back on track to ascending toward his lofty ceiling then some team will likely take a chance on him.

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Swihart still has a long way to go to prove he deserves another shot in the majors but his production in Winter Ball is an encouraging sign.