Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
It wasn’t very long ago that Blake Aubrey Swihart’s star was shining more brightly than any other young catcher in the game. Headed into the 2015 season, Swihart was ranked No.1 overall among Red Sox prospects here at Baseball Prospectus. It wasn’t just an elevated rank due to a weak system either: Swihart ranked 17th overall in the BP 101, the third-highest rank of a catcher in the last five years.
Success seemed like it would come for Swihart first with the bat and second behind the plate. Chris Mellen had this to say about his 60 hit tool: “smooth, fluid stroke from both sides of the plate; loose hands; excellent bat control.” It sure didn’t sound too bad behind the plate either: “fires well out of crouch; excellent reflexes; firm glove hand; can pop 1.87-1.90 consistently; excellent makeup; high baseball IQ; driven to succeed.” Needless to say, I was all in.
That same year Swihart got the call very early due to injuries to both Ryan Hanigan and Christian Vazquez, and played 84 games for the club. Over that sample he showed some promise with the bat and handled himself behind the plate about as well as you could expect for a 23-year-old forced into an uncomfortable position. In 2016, as a clear vote of confidence he was given the opening day nod as the starter.
What went right in 2016
Not much at all to tell you the truth. After just six games behind the plate with a struggling pitching staff and a punchless .278 batting average Swihart was demoted to AAA in favor of Christian Vazquez and his newly healed UCL. That’s right, he lasted until just April 15th with Boston. At that time I saw it as a gross overreaction to an underperforming pitching staff and I stand by that assertion.
I’d rather the Red Sox trade Blake Swihart then send him down and have him switch positions. That’s ludicrous and I won’t stand for it!
— Jake Devereaux (@DevJake) April 15, 2016
He wouldn’t stay down for long, though. On April 28th Swihart made his left field debut in Pawtucket and less than a month later he was making his May 20th debut in front of the Green Monster against the Cleveland Indians. It was very clear that the Red Sox had faith in his bat and athleticism and had little faith in the uninspiring outfield options of Brock Holt and Rusney Castillo. It was thought Swihart could handle the position and provide the team with a boost. What went wrong in 2016 This is where things really went south in a hurry. I was fuming about the clubs handling of Blake Swihart from the beginning and saw the move to place him in left field as a needless risk that reeked of desperation. Due to injuries to Chris Young and Holt batting just .200 in May while dealing with concussion symptoms, the Red Sox were risking the development and health of one of their best young talents.
My worst fears came true after only 13 games at the position. Just look at that ankle. My God. Chasing a ball if foul territory, Swihart just demolished his ankle. Season done. His foot, which is necessary, you know, to squat and be a catcher, was toast. My fury at this point knows no bounds. Swihart deserved better and didn’t get it. Look, I understand the idea behind the outfield move. I am sure the player wanted to help the team, and an argument can be made that this could potentially add to his value. It’s also not how you handle someone you see as your catcher of the future.
I am disgusted by the news that Blake Swihart is going to get some reps in left field. Way to destroy his value and development.
— Jake Devereaux (@DevJake) April 15, 2016
What to expect in 2017
Everyone knows that Dave Dombrowski has very strong opinions. He strikes me as a guy who stands by his convictions and if he doesn’t believe a guy can play a position then he gets moved off it or dealt. I believe that Dombrowski, despite what may be said publicly, does not believe Swihart has the defensive ability to catch every day and manage a pitching staff. This is why I expect him to get traded.
Swihart’s value is low right now coming off a terrible injury. I don’t expect him to be moved until he starts showing flashes of his old self in Pawtucket and rebuilds his value. I do believe he has it in him to fulfill his lofty potential and I sincerely hope I am wrong about him likely doing that with another team. Catchers with offensive potential don’t come around very often and by all accounts Swihart’s defense was continuing to improve at every stop. This is not a guy I would sell low on, and I hope he remains an integral part of the Red Sox’s plans.
Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images