The Boston Red Sox aren’t likely to keep three catchers on the active roster with limited bench spots available.
Blake Swihart, the once prized catching prospect, may not have a spot on the Red Sox roster. Swihart turns 26 on April 3 and is out of Minor League options, and has fallen to No. 3 on the catching depth chart. Spring training could be an opportunity for the Red Sox to showcase Swihart as a trade candidate.
The Red Sox enter the season with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon as the starting and backup catchers, respectively. Vazquez is seen as the catcher of the future, while Leon plays the backup veteran, guiding Vazquez to handle a pitching staff.
The Red Sox have a difficult decision to make. Eduardo Nunez will already be a platoon/utility player from the bench. Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland will platoon first base. This leaves Boston with Swihart, Marco Hernandez, Tzu Wei Lin, Brock Holt and Deven Marrero all fighting for two roster spots.
Losing Marrero’s exceptional glove and inexpensive contract would be costly to a team who is starting a rookie at third base.
Demoting veteran Holt, who also serves as a positive clubhouse influence and can play nearly every position on the field, would hurt the Red Sox too. Holt seems to have a spot on the roster unless he mightily struggles, which is possible given his decline after his vertigo condition.
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Wei Lin and Hernandez offer strong depth to Boston’s infield in case of injury, though both still have Minor League options, allowing the Red Sox to stash both in Pawtucket.
One could argue Swihart can beat out these players for the roster spot, but the Red Sox would miss out on depth. Even if Swihart is used as a fourth outfielder, the Red Sox are stunting his growth as an everyday catcher.
Swihart endured an incredibly difficult time in Boston. Every opportunity that was presented, was slammed shut before Swihart could really grasp it. He lost time to veteran catchers who can call games consistently. He also lost time to Vazquez’s elite defense. When Swihart was given a chance to produce, he broke his ankle as an outfielder, effectively ending his season.
The young catcher’s value is still high with his ability to hit on both sides of the plate, to all sides of the field. He’s not polished defensively yet, but he’s shown flashes of becoming a well-rounded catcher that can be relied on to call games.
In 2015, he hit .274 with five home runs, 17 doubles and 31 runs batted in, with only 84 games played.
His 2016 campaign was derailed by his injury after 19 games.
Last year, he was only given five plate appearances as a September call up.
While luck has not been apart of Swihart’s career, opportunity may be. In an age where offensive production from the catcher position has been at a premium, Swihart still offers promising offensive capability. A doubles hitter with home run potential, Swihart may jumpstart his career by joining a small market team that provides him everyday playing time.
The Red Sox tried to give Swihart an opportunity to prove himself offensively, but in doing so, they watched him endure a disastrous injury. The long list of mismanaging players under former manager John Farrell‘s watch is growing. Steven Wright and Blake Swihart are the most recent names that Boston management can say “What if” to.
The least Boston can do is assure Swihart gets an opportunity elsewhere by trading him, rather than further stunting his career at second base — another potential mismanagement.