The Boston Red Sox organization murdered the career of Blake Swihart. Once a top prospect in a stacked farm system, Swihart suffered a constant stream of injuries and misuse over the past three seasons. Still in arbitration and only on the books for just $910,000, can the once-promising catcher salvage the remains of his career in 2019?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: Blake Swihart
Blake Swihart never stood a chance in 2018. Buried on the depth chart, Swihart appeared in just 82 games throughout the 2018 season. Playing catcher, third base, first base, second base, left field, and right field, Swihart never had the opportunity to feel comfortable during 2018. Perhaps because of this, Swihart finished his 2018 season with an underwhelming .229/.285/.328 slash line and an accompanying 64 wRC+.
Swihart wasn’t much better in 2017. Spending basically the entire season in AAA Pawtucket, the switch-hitting catcher recorded a .190/.246/.292 slash line with a 47 wRC+ during minor league play. Swihart’s career hit a massive roadblock with an atrocious ankle injury in 2016, and the catcher has yet to recover from the reprecussions of said injury. Swihart basically wasted all of 2017 playing hurt in the minors and was completely out of minor league options in 2018, meaning the Red Sox had to carry him on the active roster all season long. Because of this, Swihart didn’t see consistent playing time and played all over the diamond when he was on the field. These conditions make it hard for any player to thrive, and Swihart couldn’t rise above the challenge.
Putting it bluntly, Blake Swihart needs to get better at just about everything in 2019. Even when he was getting consistent at-bats, Swihart didn’t do much with his opportunity. Coming through the minors, Swihart was seen as a bat-first catching prospect. If he’s ever to earn a full-time major league role, he’ll need to find the swing which made him such an attractive prospect to begin with.
Additionally, Swihart needs to get better behind the plate. The Red Sox had one of the worst catching situations in baseball last year, yet the Red Sox still didn’t trust Swihart to catch with any regularity. The biggest reason for that was because of his subpar defense. Even at his best, Swihart was never seen as a defensive wizard. Swihart has a cannon on an arm but doesn’t have much accuracy to back it up. On top of that, Swihart struggles to keep balls in front of his and allows more passed balls than you’d like. Nobody should hope he becomes a Gold Glover overnight, but Swihart has the ability to play adequate defense.
Steamer Projections is ridiculously low on Blake Swihart entering 2019. The projections website thinks Swihart will play in just 29 games, recording a .235/.300/.353 slash line with a 75 wRC+. Basically, they expect him to do next-to-nothing during the 2019 campaign.
Swihart may never be an elite player, but it’s safe to assume he’ll do better than this. For one, the Red Sox are currently carrying Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon on the active roster. It’s all-but-certain one of these guys is traded prior to Opening Day, with Leon being the most likely candidate. Vazquez will not play 133 games, so Swihart will easily see more than 29 games.
Additionally, Swihart should be a better hitter in 2019 than he was in 2018. Swihart had everything going against him heading into 2018. The catcher hadn’t seen major league pitching since early in 2016 and didn’t have consistent playing time to find his swing. That should chance in 2019, which should lead to a natural increase in his numbers. Maybe he never reaches his lofty ceiling, but he should be a serviceable backup at the very worst.