Blake Swihart was once the future at backstop for the Boston Red Sox. Last season, not only was he one of the Red Sox top prospects, he was widely regarded as the top catching prospect in all of baseball. Now he is a man without a home.
Perhaps that’s not fair. His home is still in the Boston Red Sox organization, at least for now. It may, however, no longer be behind home plate. Swihart is one year removed from being a consensus top-20 prospect in baseball by nearly every minor league expert, but now his future seems like a huge question mark.
Now the one-time prized catching prospect is back in Pawtucket learning a new position. Or better put, he is re-learning a position he hasn’t played in five years. The Red Sox brass insist that Swihart’s home is still as a backstop, yet he finds himself seeing time at a position he hasn’t played since before he was drafted.
So, where does one of baseball’s once-top prospects go from here?
Swihart’s professional career began in 2011, when the Red Sox selected the switch-hitting 19-year old with the 26th overall pick. He came to the Red Sox with experience at shortstop, first base and left field, but the Red Sox immediately switched him to catcher. There was never any doubt about Swihart’s bat, but how he would translate behind the plate was quite the conundrum.
He worked his way up the ranks, and became a quality bat and an adequate catcher. He developed some nice pop, showing that he had 15-to-20 home run potential, as well as being able to hit for average, as he is a career .284 minor league hitter. He did possess pretty large strikeout rates (17.1 percent to be precise) with a minuscule walk rate (7.8 percent) over his minor league career, but he was seen as a catcher who could develop into a Brian McCann-esque type of player.
His big league debut came in 2015, and it was admittedly rushed by the Red Sox. Due to not one, but two injuries to their starting catchers, the Red Sox had nowhere to turn but to their then 23-year-old prospect who was going to get some extensive on-the-job training. Offensively, Swihart did a nice job.
He slashed .274/.319/.392 over his 84-game debut (309 plate appearances). He compiled 23 extra-base hits — five of which were home runs — which meant nearly 30 percent of his hits went for extra bases. If you were to take a look at his season from a metrics standpoint, Swihart had a wRC+ of 91. Now, while 100 is considered the major league average, this is the era of the light-hitting catcher. Swihart’s wRC+ was higher than names like Yan Gomes, Yadier Molina, Jason Castro, Kurt Suzuki and fellow rookie James McCann. As a 23-year-old forced into big league duty, you could say Swihart excelled.
He did well enough, in fact, to earn the 2016 Opening Day nod as the starting catcher. He only had one problem. Christian Vazquez.
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