FORT MYERS, Fla. — Blake Swihart hasn’t taken the easy road in developing as a baseball player.
Swihart, who was reassigned to minor league spring training Thursday, is one of the Boston Red Sox’s most intriguing prospects. Not only does the 21-year-old catcher have tools that ultimately could translate at the next level, but he also has plenty of drive, evidenced by his various undertakings throughout his baseball career.
Swihart bounced around between positions in high school, but the Red Sox drafted him in the first round (26th overall) in 2011 with the intention of grooming him into a full-time catcher. The thought was that Swihart’s athleticism and strong arm would serve him well at the position, and the up-and-comer welcomed the challenge with open arms.
“Wherever they want me to play I’ll play,” Swihart told NESN.com at JetBlue Park last week. “I want to get to the next level, so if they believe that’s (as a) catcher, I’m going to work hard to get there.”
Transitioning into a new position obviously is difficult, no matter how you slice it. But the task is especially daunting when the transition involves learning to play catcher — a position with so many little nuances, physical demands and mental requirements.
“I’m really coachable, so that helps,” Swihart said. “Whenever another catcher is like, ‘Hey, try this, try that,’ I’m willing to learn.”
Learning to play catcher wasn’t Swihart’s first foreign mission, though. The V. Sue Cleveland High School graduate worked to become a switch-hitter during his junior year after heeding the advice of Albuquerque Baseball Academy instructor Ryan Kellner.
“Ryan Kellner at my baseball academy in Albuquerque came up to me and goes, ‘Blake, we’re going to have you switch-hit this year. You’re going to hit all lefty. I don’t care if you don’t get any hits (and) you don’t do anything. We’re going to have you switch-hit because that’s going to take you to the next level,'” Swihart recounted at Red Sox spring training.
Swihart took switch-hitting and ran with it, becoming as comfortable from the left side as he is from his natural right side. But while improving offensively from both sides of the plate continues to be a point of emphasis, Swihart’s main focus is on honing his defensive skills and bulking up — he’s now up to around 200 pounds after being drafted at 164 — to improve his endurance.
“Catching’s always first, and that’s something that I had to learn,” Swihart said. “Catching’s first and hitting’s last. If you can get hits, that’s just a bonus if you’re a catcher.”
Swihart’s baseball path has involved several twists and turns. But the intended destination never has changed.
Photo via Twitter/@JPBrandanophoto