The list of names behind Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart on Baseball America’s 2015 top 100 prospects list is impressive.
Kyle Schwarber. Jon Gray. Archie Bradley. Aaron Sanchez. Luis Severino. C.J. Edwards. Aaron Nola. Aaron Judge.
Those players all went on to enjoy varying levels of success at the big league level, while Swihart has played a total of 109 major league games since the start of the 2015 season.
Once considered a can’t-miss prospect, Swihart’s injury issues have dramatically slowed his progression. At the team’s Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort Casino, however, the 25-year-old brimmed with confidence, declaring himself fully healthy and eager to get back on the track that made him a top prospect just a few years ago.
“This is the first time I’ve felt healthy in a year and a half, so it’s going to be fun for me,” Swihart said. “I know what I can do when I’m healthy and I’m excited to show everybody else what I can do.”
Swihart impressed as a young catcher in 2015, but a move to the outfield in 2016 spelled disaster. He collided with the Fenway Park wall in June, suffering an ankle injury that would require season-ending surgery. He re-injured the ankle in 2017 and blames that ailment for his struggles at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit just .190 in 53 games last season.
“I couldn’t sit on my back side very well hitting left-handed coming out of my swing, and you guys saw last year, I struggled,” Swihart said. “I was trying to play through it, and I think the steps I’ve taken this offseason to get healthy. It’s going to be a big difference.”
Swihart learned in 2017 the value of not trying to do too much, too fast. Because of that, he finally feels back to normal, which he didn’t fully realize until he was able to catch back to back games in the Dominican winter league. Swihart’s winter ball performance speaks for itself, too, as he hit .407 over 18 games. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to build on that success next month in spring training.
Whether Swihart gets that opportunity in Boston remains to be seen, however. He still sees himself as a catcher, but there’s a logjam there with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon in the mix.
Swihart’s positional flexibility could still keep doors open, though. He has outfield experience and played some first base in 2017. The Red Sox might even try him at second base, where he could see time as Dustin Pedroia rehabs from an injury.
Few natural catchers possess the athletic ability of Swihart, who’s taking ground balls and fly balls this offseason.
“I look it as a win (that) I’m athletic enough to play different positions,” he said. “I’m a switch-hitting catcher that can play nine other positions. I can get on the mound if you need me to. I’ve always played every position. Growing up, my dad had me play everywhere and that’s just something I’ve always done.”
Swihart’s unrealized potential paired with his ability to play all over the diamond make him an intriguing player, not only for the Red Sox but for other teams, too. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this month that other clubs have called about Swihart.
“We are not looking to move him,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski flatly stated to Rosenthal.
“That means a lot,” Swihart said. “When the head guy is saying, ‘Hey, we want this guy,’ it puts pressure on me and it doesn’t put pressure on me. I want to go out and do everything I can to win for this team and do anything I can to help it. When Dave has my back, I want to do everything I can to help the team.”
Swihart is out of minor league options, however, making this the most important spring training of his young career. Whether he’s able to stick in Boston (or elsewhere), he’s motivated to prove the pre-injury hype was warranted.
“I’m a better player than what I’ve shown in the past,” he said. “I know what I can do and I know that everybody — all the coaches, even you guys (the media) — know what I can do. You guys have seen it. I just want to be able to prove myself. That’s it.”