Blake Swihart hasn’t had consistent playing time for the Red Sox in 2018. He also hasn’t produced when he does see the field. Those things are related.
Looking at Blake Swihart’s season stats, it’s hard to make the case for keeping him on the roster when Christian Vazquez returns. But a cursory glance at his Fangraphs player page is going to leave you light on a whole bunch of necessary context. In his last five game appearances, dating back to July 10, Swihart has seen at least 3 PA in each of them and four in all but one. Three games were played at catcher, two at first base. Prior to that, he had seen more than two PAs in a game only twice since a start he made in right field on June 10. This is how his season has gone, for the most part. Pinch hit, pinch run, and late inning substitutions make up the bulk of his playing time in 2018.
So this five game run of being in the field and seeing several at bats is the first consistent, healthy playing time he’s seen since 2015. You may remember the excitement when the Red Sox decided to promote him after injuries had sidelined Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. That season he was just 23 years old and there was no question he was being rushed because of the injuries. He had peaked at number 17 on Baseball America’s top 100 list, the highest ranked catcher at the time. But he was overwhelmed by major league pitching. He posted a 39 wRC+ in his first month in the bigs.
But he would show the capacity for growth.
His wRC+ figures by month the rest of that season went 86, 90, 159, 95. He would finish the year at 93, which is downright respectable for a 23 year old called up at least a year too early. And while he’s certainly not the 159 wRC+ hitter he flashed in August of 2015, his original projection of being somewhere between 10-20% better than league average was certainly within reach. That why it was so disappointing when then manager John Farrell decided, after just 6 starts behind the plate in 2016, that Swihart needed to be sent back down in favor of Christian Vazquez. While it is understandable to value defense highly behind the plate, there was nothing in Swihart’s history that suggested he was going to be a bad defender. So demoting him to have him work on his receiving skills after six games seemed incredibly short sighted.
Then he was moved to the outfield in response to a number of injuries at the major league level. He took the position change in stride and was called back up where his athleticism allowed him to look good in left field. Unfortunately, his season would be ended by injury on June 4 of that year. The injury left him with lingering pain right up through the end of last season. And that means that he wasn’t playing fully healthy again until this year. With the depth of the Red Sox 25 man roster, playing time has been difficult to find for the 26 year old, but once again an injury to Christian Vazquez has put him behind the plate.
Low and behold, consistent playing time agrees with him!
In the five games since Swihart has been seeing more regular plate appearances, he boasts a .353/.421/.647 triple slash. And he belted his first home run of year last night. He also has 2 doubles, 2 walks and a stolen base in that span. While a 188 wRC+ over five games is hardly predictive, it is encouraging to see him hitting again now that he’s seeing the field a little more. No one is expecting him to join the ranks of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez both showing their warts at the plate this year, having Swihart emerge as a legitimate option behind the plate would give the team a lot more flexibility going forward.
If Swihart is spending two nights a week as part of the battery, the demands on his bat won’t be high. A 110 wRC+ with 10-15 HR power is plenty for someone backing up catcher, first base, and left field. The other option, of course, is trade bait. And in that regard, the timing of Swihart’s resurgence for the Red Sox couldn’t be better. While a five game clip won’t turn him into headliner, as a supplementary piece for a team needing a long term answer at catcher, he may put an offer over the top. Perhaps that team is the Reds in discussions for Raisel Iglesias? Or maybe the Red Sox decide to try and pry J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins and find themselves needing to offer a catcher in return. We can’t say for sure what this hot streak means for Swihart. But one thing is certain, he’s playing incredibly well right now and that’s nothing but a good thing for the Red Sox.
Do you think Swihart’s production lately is for real? Will he be dealt before the deadline? Is he the long term answer at catcher in Boston? Let us know in the comments!