2014 will be the 15th year in a row that the Boston Red Sox will not have a home-grown player behind the dish on opening day. Could 2015 be any different? Probably not, but 2016 might be the drought-killer if Blake Swihart continues to rise the ranks of Boston’s deep minor league system.
Since being drafted and signing a $2.5 million signing bonus out of V. Sue Cleveland High School in New Mexico, Swihart has steadily moved up the minor league ladder, even getting an invite to his first major league camp following a breakout 2013 season. A year ago in High-A Salem, Swihart hit .298 in 103 games, up from a .262 clip in Low-A Greenville in 2012. The switch-hitting catcher also drew more walks (which Boston’s higher-ups love) and struck out at a much lower rate, while improving his OPS from .702 to .794.
While the overall offensive figures improved in 2013, Swihart’s defense did not lose a beat, as he took home the franchise’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Other admired tools of the 21-year old’s game are his athleticism, good swings from both sides of the plate, an excellent arm and reflexes.
Swihart will be one of six catchers in Fort Myers this spring, and the only non-roster invitee in the half dozen. He will have plenty of time to learn behind above-average defensive catchers like projected opening day starter A.J. Pierzynski and 2013 postseason hero David Ross, but should look to improve on his pop at the plate. Swihart hit just two dingers and 42 RBIs in 2013, compared to seven and 53 in 11 less games in 2012.
One of the biggest knocks on Swihart is his lack of size. He only weighs 175 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, which could mean a move to play second base in the future.
The fourth-year pro will start 2014 in double-A Portland as the top catcher, and could potentially land in triple-A Pawtucket by year’s end if his 2013 success continues into the new year. His ideal ETA is 2015, but 2016 is a more logical fit. Since a catcher’s defensive prowess is more useful to a baseball team rather than the offense, the Red Sox should ride out Swihart behind the dish. Plus, they will still have Dustin Pedroia at second for the foreseeable future — no need to change that.
Still, it takes catchers longer to develop (the top-ranked catching prospect according to milb.com is 25-year old Travis d’Arnaud of the New York Mets), and with 2016 as a legitimate ETA, it will give Swihart, the 61st best prospect in all of minor league baseball, a few years to bulk up and work on his swing.