Blake Swihart has been described as the Boston Red Sox’s No. 1 catcher by both president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager John Farrell, yet the young backstop was caught off-guard when informed of such during the team’s Baseball Winter Weekend event at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
“Oh, really? Nice. I didn’t know that,” Swihart said Saturday. “Nice. But I’m still going to go out there and make an impression, and my work will never stop and I’ll do something every day to get better.”
Perhaps Swihart was being coy. Or perhaps he really wasn’t sure where he stood after a solid rookie season in which he came on strong in the second half. After all, veteran Ryan Hanigan remains part of Boston’s catching mix and fellow up-and-coming catcher Christian Vazquez is on the mend after missing all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery.
Swihart can’t rest on his laurels. And he isn’t.
“I’ve still got to make an impression,” Swihart said. “I’m still going to go out there with the same mindset to try to win the job, and I want to go out there and make an impression and let that stick with everybody.”
Vazquez was slated to be Boston’s starting catcher last season with Hanigan serving as the backup. But Vazquez went down with an elbow issue toward the tail end of spring training and Hanigan fractured a finger on his throwing hand May 1, forcing the Red Sox to turn to Swihart — their top prospect at the time — much earlier than expected.
It took some time for Swihart to adjust, both offensively and defensively. The 23-year-old held his own in spite of the daunting challenge, though, and he eventually broke out down the stretch, hitting .303 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and an .805 OPS in 44 second-half games.
“Offensively, I’ve always had confidence. I think the second half was a little different just because I was more comfortable with catching,” Swihart said. “I got more comfortable catching. I knew my offense would be there, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was still confident and I just went out there and it showed.”
Swihart showed so much promise down the stretch that the Red Sox are comfortable going into 2016 with him guiding a pitching staff that now includes David Price, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and reliever Carson Smith, all of whom were acquired this winter. Swihart said he’s been watching more video this offseason and is encouraged by the progress he’s made from a catching standpoint. No learning experience has been too small.
“Talking with Vazquez, Hanigan, Tek (Jason Varitek), (bullpen coach) Dana (LeVangie), (catching coordinator Chad Epperson), all those guys, and kind of figuring out how they read (hitters) and what they would do to get prepared,” Swihart said. “I took a little bit of everything from somebody and made it into my own. Now I have a really good grasp on what I’m doing.”
The Red Sox’s starting catching job is Swihart’s to lose. All signs point toward him securing the gig and bringing his game to another level as his big league experience catches up with his talent.
Thumbnail photo via Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports Images