Red Sox could go “Old School” by carrying three catchers

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Blake Swihart
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Blake Swihart /

The Boston Red Sox may face a roster bind with Blake Swihart.  Is having three catchers a possibility to start the season?

The Boston Red Sox roster may be taking a drift back in time.  Will it stop with the catchers?

Rosters for the majors were quite defined for decades.  Your pitching staff comprised ten pitchers, you had five outfielders, seven infielders, and three catchers. The most notable change is in the number of pitchers.

Today a staff had 12 and even 13 pitchers which means shrinkage elsewhere to accommodate the extra arms. One less infielder, outfielder and catcher or a combination of the two.  Rare is the use of having three catchers on a roster unless one catcher happens to have extensive versatility.

The Red Sox are in a bind with Blake Swihart since the 26-year-old switch-hitter is out of options. What to do? The possibility of a trade has been discussed, but Swihart’s value has decreased over injuries and poor performance. At Triple-A Pawtucket, Swihart hit just .190 in 53 games in 2017. In the 2017-18 Dominican Winter League Swihart hit .407 in nine games.  Maybe he’s ready?  Maybe not?

The original plan was for Swihart to migrate to left field, but a misstep in the outfield resulted in extensive ankle damage that just persisted.  Is Swihart finally healthy? Will he work out at first base?  Is the left field option dead?

Based on the roster configuration Swihart’s only roster path is catching unless injuries or trades intervene.  The Red Sox have Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland pegged as the first base contingent.  And the outfield? Swihart’s limited experience and lack of exposure to right and center fields puts a damper on that.  So, that leaves the Red Sox back to catcher.

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Conceivably the Red Sox could take advantage of the usual April scheduling and carry 11 pitchers. Spring training has a nasty habit of taking a pitcher or two out of commission for a few weeks.  And the Red Sox could also use their own version of the “Hellenic Flu” so immortalized by Red Auerbach to postpone roster decisions.

Swihart could force the issue with an outstanding spring. Is Sandy Leon vulnerable? Leon has proved himself to be a reliable defensive catcher who has a knack of getting key hits. With Leon’s history, his spot on the roster appears secure unless Swihart morphs into Johnny Bench or Buster Posey. And Christian Vazquez is set solid with a .290 average and a howitzer disguised as an arm.

Swihart is not in the defensive category of Leon and Vazquez and never will be. A versatile athlete who converted to catcher and adapted rather well but is acceptable and not spectacular. And if Swihart does hit that could mean a potential bat off the bench which in those bygone days a third catcher often was.  Just think Smoky Burgess who pinch-hit .285 with 16 home runs for his career.

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There will be few interesting topics surfacing during spring training and Swihart is certainly going to be one of note. Pitchers and catchers – meaning Swihart – will soon report to camp and then the watch begins.