The Boston Red Sox will always spend money to bring in established players, but their farm system is the lifeblood of the organization. One of the rising prospects about to burst into prominence is their catcher of the future, Blake Swihart.
The switch-hitter was a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in the 2011 draft out of high school in New Mexico.
The Boston Globe’s Craig Forde reported that Swihart only started catching during his junior season. However, by hitting .545 with 41 RBI and 19 stolen bases as a senior, he was too tantalizing a prospect at the position for Boston to pass up.
WEEI’s Alex Speier wrote that Boston became interested in Swihart after watching him play in a doubleheader, where he caught the first game and played shortstop during the second. Enamored with his athleticism, Boston projected that his ceiling could be that of an above-average defensive catcher with the capability of hitting .300 with 15 or more home runs per season.
Swihart appeared in just two Gulf Coast League games in 2011 but spent a full season with Single-A Greenville in 2012. In 92 games, he impressed by hitting .262 with seven home runs and 53 RBI.
Defense can often flummox young catchers, but Swihart has more than held his own so far during his young career. He threw out 31 percent of stolen base attempts last season while permitting just three passed balls—a remarkably low number for a player of his experience.
Despite his relative newness behind the plate, Swihart told Forde that he believes he is adapting well to catching:
Every game I’m getting more and more comfortable behind there. It’s going really well and I’m learning my pitchers really well. I’m blocking well, throwing well and everything’s going good so far. They haven’t had me change anything or do anything different than what I've been doing.
Ben Crockett, Boston’s director of player development, told Mayo that the organization has been pleased with the defensive strides made by the youngster:
Defensively, it's been impressive. He's really taken some strides forward. The athleticism he's shown behind the plate allows him to pick up things quickly…
For him to go out and do it for a full season, control the running game, learn how to run a game and a pitching staff, he certainly has the athleticism to do it behind the plate. From our standpoint, the defensive side, it should end up being above average. The progress has come fast enough for him where I think it'll be right in line…
About to turn 21, Swihart will likely play in High-A Salem this coming season. If he continues to develop quickly, a midyear promotion to Double-A wouldn't be out of the question.
The Red Sox are no stranger to switch-hitting catchers. Jason Varitek led their pitching staff for 15 years until retiring after the 2011 season.
Ryan Lavarnway is currently at the top of Boston’s catching-prospect depth chart. However, concerns about his defense prompted ESPN.com’s Keith Law to label him as “too big and stiff” to remain behind the plate on a long-term basis.
Swihart appears to have the athletic ability to be the total package at catcher. All that now remains is for him to get in his work to hone those skills to reach a major league level.
Fans of the Red Sox should be excited about the future of the team’s catching position. Although he is not yet widely known, Swihart is on the horizon and getting ready to make his mark in Boston as the next great catcher.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference