Blake Swihart and the Depth Chart

Ignore for the moment that at least half of the leading hitters this spring are people you’ve never heard of and focus on the fact that you have heard of Blake Swihart. Swihart is hitting .700 or whatever it is this spring with a bunch of homers and doubles. He’s been quite good. Spring training stats are the fools’ gold of baseball. They mean nothing. Yet that doesn’t stop some people — sometimes even people with actual jobs working for actual baseball teams — from placing weight on them. Take Blake Swihart, for example. You see, according to Sean McAdam of Boston Sports Journal, the Red Sox have been “flooded with calls […] asking if Swihart is available in a trade.” Spicy!

Smart teams will trade any player if the return is right. You wouldn’t say Mookie Betts is available but if the Angels called and offered Mike Trout for Betts, you’d make that trade immediately. Swihart isn’t Trout and Swihart isn’t Betts either, so of course, listen to the offers. Swihart is 26 (has been for almost a week) and has played in just 116 games over the last two seasons due to injuries, with most of those coming in the minor leagues. He’s also out of options, meaning the team can’t send him to the minors without risking losing him for nothing to any team willing to snap him up. It seems, based on McAdam’s reporting, that there are many teams who would do just that. Swihart, then, will have to stay on the major league roster, or the Sox may as well deal him.

Depending on the return, perhaps they should. The roster is certainly set up to handle being Swihartless. Between Brock Holt and Deven Marrero, the entire infield and outfield are accounted for — not that Holt would play center or right field, but the team has three outfielders who could move around if someone was hurt, necessitating Brock Holt: Outfielder. Also, there’s Marco Hernandez, whose shoulder is still hurt but who should be back from the DL at some point. Probably. Maybe. We hope. When he does, he’s capable of playing all over the infield and hitting some as well. So what do the Red Sox need with a player like Swihart who offers more of the same?

Pardon me for getting all metaphysical and stuff on you, but maybe it’s not depth that the Red Sox should be searching for after all. The Red Sox possess perhaps the best and certainly the most versatile outfield in baseball. All three guys, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts, can play any outfield position, thank you very much. That means as long as two of them are healthy, all the Red Sox need is a left fielder, and they have that in J.D. Martinez. The numbers tell us Martinez is an atrocious outfielder, but he’s also relatively young and athletic, and has suffered from various injuries through the previous few seasons which could and likely did negatively impact his performance in the outfield, injuries which he’s since recovered from. But even if you can’t blame it on injuries and Martinez is that bad, if he’s that bad in the smallest outfield in baseball and only very occasionally then that’s fine.

In the infield, the Sox have two first basemen in Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland, Eduardo Nunez who can play second, short, or third, Xander Bogaerts who plays short but could play third if something catastrophic happened, and Rafael Devers who plays third so he can do catastrophic things to Yankee relief pitchers. Then there’s the aforementioned Marrero, Holt, and, eventually, Hernandez. But wait there’s more because when Dustin Pedroia comes back, that frees up Nunez to play all over the place as well.

Clearly the Red Sox have depth. They have depth for their depth. What I’m saying is their depth is deep. While they don’t lack in quality starters however, and they have all the deepest depth, the quality of that depth is questionable. Hernandez is out and will be out for a while with no return date yet known. Pedroia should be back in May, but maybe not, and as long as he’s out Nunez will be stapled to second base (hopefully not literally), limiting his ability to provide depth. Marrero’s hitting is the inverse of his fielding, and as his fielding is very good, that makes his hitting very bad. Holt was once the poor man’s Ben Zobrist, but that was three-to-five concussions ago. How comfortable would you be with Marrero playing 30 games at third base, or Holt playing 45 at second? Or both simultaneously? Probably not very comfortable, nor should you be because, while they’re probably super nice guys, neither is good enough to be starting.

What I’m saying is their depth is deep. While they don’t lack in quality starters however, and they have all the deepest depth, the quality of that depth is questionable.

The point is there are questions, perhaps too many questions to feel comfortable. Swihart is yet another question mark, but he’s a talented question mark, more talented than the rest of the group. Also, the Red Sox don’t have to hit on all their question marks. They only need one or two and they’ll have a very strong bench.

There’s two more reasons to hold on to Swihart, the most important of which is the utter lack of catching depth in the organization. The Sox don’t have a single catcher anywhere in their top 30 prospects and nothing playable in the upper minors. That means it’s Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon all the way, all year long. If one of those guys gets hurt, then the replacement is likely going to be someone who doesn’t have any business playing in the majors. Swihart offers something more than replacement level behind the plate.

That brings us to the last reason to hold on to Swihart: upside. This is the main argument often cited by Swihart fans. He was a top prospect as recently as April of 2015, when Sox Prospects had him ranked above Yoan Moncada, Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers, and Michael Kopech. He’s potentially an above average hitter, not just for a catcher but for the major leagues. He offers a bit of everything: power, speed, and average. It’s an enticing package.

He’s not 22 anymore though. He might yet attain what the prospect writers hoped for him, though his spring training heroics aren’t as much the biggest sign of that as the fact that his name can be penciled into the lineup for the first time in two seasons.

The great thing for the 2018 Red Sox is he doesn’t have to be better than Moncada and Kopech this season. If he can hit a bit while playing a bit, that’s enough. He’s likely a better hitter than Holt, and definitely a better hitter than Marrero, and certainly a better hitter than Leon. If he stays healthy, shows something at the plate, then he’s probably still an upgrade over Leon long term. That’s a valuable guy, and one the organization shouldn’t be rushing to get rid of, especially for a Triple-A reliever, a C+ prospect, or whatever small return they might receive.

If the Angels call about Mike Trout, though, they probably should do that one.

Photo by Kim Klement — USA TODAY Sports

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3 comments on “Blake Swihart and the Depth Chart”

Horace Fury

Sorry to say it feels like Marrero and Holt have to go soon, a whole lot of utility to lose at once. Swihart seems capable of a bigger breakout than Travis Shaw, and who wants to see that happen on another team again? Some flexibility can be bought by DFA’ing Hanley–sooner rather than later, although it’s going to be a 25-man mess when Pedroia returns, and that’s w/o the pressure caused by 3 pitchers also ostensibly due for the 25-man (E-Rod, Wright, Thornburg). Nunez may only be here for 2018; Marco and Lin are plausibly the utilities of the future (at least from today’s vantage), so the losses may not be too painful.

I agree, but hope that the RS put much thought into this. They traded Shaw for a reliever they have never been able to use. I know….it’s just bad luck, but I would put much thinking into the decision. Would like to see what Swihart could do in the infield. I recall that he played all over in HS, including some short.

philip eways

A healthy Swihart is a Keeper. Solid , professional hitter. Defense underrated as catcher and will improve with use. All teams want him. They are not wrong. Don’t let him get away..

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