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May 2, 2015

The Call-Up

Blake Swihart

by Christopher Crawford and Ben Carsley

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The situation: The Red Sox have gotten very little offensive production from their backstops this season, and with Ryan Hanigan going on the 15-day disabled list with a broken finger Boston will call up Swihart to see if the backstop is ready to contribute at the big-league level.

Background: Swihart was considered by many to be one of the best bats in the loaded 2011 MLB Draft class coming out of Cleveland High School in Santa Fe; but some concerns over where he’d end up playing—his high school coach had him playing shortstop as well as catcher over his senior season—and about the offensive upside saw him slip to the 26th overall selection that year. While he hasn’t put up gaudy statistics in his four years in the system, he has produced at each level, posting a .769 career OPS and hitting .338 in his 18 games this year before receiving the promotion. He was ranked the top prospect in the Red Sox system by the Baseball Prospectus Prospect team, and was ranked 17th in the BP 101—the highest rated catcher on the list.

Scouting report: A switch-hitter, Swihart has a swing that works from both sides of the plate, showing good balance throughout and getting through the zone with above-average bat speed. His best asset both with the glove and at the plate is his hand-eye coordination, and though he shows some length, his barrel skills and ability to recognize pitches give him a chance to have a plus hit tool both as a left and right-handed hitter.

The biggest question mark offensively is the power tool, as he’s shown above-average raw power at times—particularly from the right side in batting practice—but the swing becomes flatter and more geared for contact in games. He’s a smart, generally patient hitter who will swing at the first pitch if in the zone and won’t pile up walks, but by no stretch of the imagination is a hacker who gives away at-bats. He’s also one of the more athletic backstops we’ve seen in the past few years, and he’s capable of stealing double-digit bases if given the opportunity.

There were many who believed Swihart was going to have to move to a corner outfield position, but he’s shown he’s very capable of handling the backstop position. His receiving skills aren’t perfect but his soft hands and improving feel for the position make him more than adequate at blocking balls and framing. His athleticism and quick reflexes also help him keep runners at bay, and that, along with an arm that is borderline plus-plus, allows him to be an asset at keeping all but the fleetest of foot from attempting steals. There’s still some work to be done, but barring an injury, there’s no reason to think that Swihart isn’t going to stay behind the plate long term.

Immediate big-league future: While Swihart is an extremely advanced prospect—especially when you consider he just turned 23 in April—there will be a bit of a learning curve for the switch-hitting backstop, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he struggled in his time with the Red Sox. With that being said, this is a catcher without an obvious weakness, and if he can show some patience at the plate he has the ability to easily outproduce what the Sox were getting from Hanigan. The future is much brighter, though, and Swihart will be among the best catchers in baseball before the end of the decade. —Christopher Crawford

Fantasy Impact: Sorry, but this just isn’t that big of a deal from a fantasy perspective. Swihart has 145 Triple-A PA under his belt, and while he’s hit quite well this year, the sample size isn’t big enough to be meaningful yet. Swihart is generally someone who has taken a while to adjust to his new surroundings whenever he’s moved up the chain, and I’m not letting 70 good PA with a .411 BABIP blind me as to his typical developmental pattern.

There’s a good chance that Swihart won’t even be up for the long haul, as the Sox could explore external options like Welington Castillo and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or could use Sandy Leon and Humberto Quintero, deciding they’d rather punt PAs at the major-league level than interfere with Swihart’s development. Sure, Swihart could take this job and run with it, but the odds of any young catcher doing so aren’t good.

The good news here is Swihart has upside, which is something Leon and Quintero severely lack. So sure, if you’re in an AL-only league or a deepish two-catcher league, Swihart’s promotion is good news because it *could* be significant. It probably won’t be, though, and if you bank on production from this 23-year-old backstop you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Don’t mistake this for pessimism when it comes to Swihart’s future. He’s going to be a top-7 fantasy backstop for a long time. But we’re not there yet, and while all the contextual factors (home park, supporting cast) are there for Swihart to thrive, he’s a better bet to be fantasy relevant in 2016. Don’t burn a ton of FAAB dollars or a high waiver priority on him. At present, I honestly prefer Kevin Plawecki. —Ben Carsley

PECOTA:

  • 90th percentile: .288/.334/.447, 1.8 WARP
  • 50th percentile: .242/.284/.371, 0.3 WARP
  • 10th percentile: .197/.234/.298, -0.5 WARP

Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Boston Red Sox,  Prospects,  Scouting

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Rubbing Mud: The Ongoi... (05/02)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article The Call-Up: Michael L... (04/29)
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