Blake Swihart had a weird season, to say the least.
Following an impressive spring training, expectations were high for the Boston Red Sox’s former No. 1 catching prospect. But then Swihart, as he so often has during his four years in the big leagues, endured an up-and-down, largely roleless season — albeit one that ended in a World Series championship.
Ever-plagued by the perception he can’t be an everyday catcher, Swihart was rag-dolled around the diamond: 28 appearances at backstop, 14 in right field, nine in left, 10 at first base, three at third base, one at second and 14 as a designated hitter. He appeared in just 82 games and, despite a midseason hot streak before landing on the disabled list, only batted .229 with three homers and 18 RBIs. The 26-year-old switch-hitter went 0-for-3 in his only postseason at-bats.
By nearly every measure, it was a tough campaign for a player who showed so much promise during his rookie season in 2015 but spent the last two seasons in the minors battling injuries and offensive inconsistency.
Swihart, of course, isn’t entirely exempt from blame. At the end of the day, it’s up to the player to prove they belong on the field. Still, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is more than willing to shoulder some of the responsibility for Swihart’s bizarre season.
“Offensively, it wasn’t fair for him this year,” Cora recently told The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. “He feels that he lost it right-handed. We’ll see where we’re at, but yeah, he’s capable (of being a No. 1 catcher).
“We’ll see where we go in the offseason. We’ll sit down and talk about players in the upcoming weeks and all of that, but I see him, too, as someone who can play first and he can play the outfield. I didn’t take advantage of him as much as I should have this year.”
Swihart, to his credit, never publicly displayed angst over his situation. Yes, there were midseason rumors of possible trade requests, but by all accounts, Swihart showed up every day and worked his tail off.
If there’s another silver lining to be found, it’s that Swihart looked adept — even great, at times — behind the plate. He committed no errors, no passed balls and threw out five out of 14 would-be base-stealers. The possessor of a surprisingly strong arm, Swihart hardly felt like a downgrade from Christian Vazquez, who — until this season, at least — was considered one of the game’s best defensive catchers.
Most importantly, Swihart looked like a perfectly fine game-caller — a skill many believed he’d never develop.
“From everything I heard about Blake not being a good defender — he is actually a good defender,” Cora said. “I mean, he threw out what? Like five out of six. And he blocked better and he bought into the reports and using the (analytic) information to our benefit.”
Ultimately, it’s fair to wonder whether Swihart still has a future in Boston. Sure, the Red Sox reportedly plan to bring him to spring training as a catcher, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Swihart dealt for, say, an infielder or a reliever.
And that, if we’re being honest, would be a shame. Numbers be damned, Swihart’s talent is undeniable, and it wasn’t so long ago he was being labeled “the next Buster Posey.” Those expectations, of course, were unfair.
But for all of Swihart’s trials and tribulations, there appears to be genuine optimism that his long-awaited emergence is just around the corner. As for what position he’s playing and what uniform he’s wearing when that breakthrough arrives — your guess is as good as ours.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images