In what might be considered by some as a surprising move, the Boston Red Sox placed Sandy Leon on waivers this week, paving the way to a more defined role for Blake Swihart on the roster. With Swihart staying, the Red Sox give the keys to a player still yet to reach his full potential. Subtracting the third catcher means Swihart can focus his attention on being a backstop, and not bouncing around the diamond. What is the reason why the club insists on keeping New Mexico native in tow? Let’s dive in.
Swihart’s impressive athleticism makes him a rare find behind the dish
Christian Vazquez, barring injury, will see the majority of the starts behind the plate in 2018. That might be the exact fit Swihart needs to carve out a role on the club. As a backup, Swihart brings a sweet-swinging, switch-hitting bat off the bench. His versatility by being able to move around the infield and outfield presents him opportunities everywhere. Throughout the 2018 season, Alex Cora found Swihart useful as a pinch runner, which only adds to the intrigue. A backup catcher that can pinch run? Certainly a rare commodity. Swihart has always possessed a strong throwing arm, but his improving defense at the plate has encouraged the Boston brass enough to give him the job over Leon, who was adored by the pitching staff for his game calling and pitch framing ability. But Swihart’s value extends beyond his flexibility around the field.
Noticeable offensive improvements offer a glimmer of hope for Swihart
In the first half of the 2018 season, predating Vazquez’ broken finger, Swihart staying seemed like an afterthought. Trade rumors swirled, but as teams came calling, the Red Sox stuck with him, and it paid dividends. After posting a meager .167 average through mid-summer, the former top catching prospect started to discover himself at the dish. Once he earned more regular playing time, Swihart hit .277 with a .734 OPS in the second half. These numbers would have placed him among the top offensive catchers in the league should he have qualified.
After a season where Sox catchers profiled among the league’s worst offensively across the board, Swihart brought some welcome optimism for production out of the bottom third of the lineup. He also just put together a torrid spring in Grapefruit League action, slashing .414/.433/.517 with three doubles, five RBI, and a pair of stolen bases.That is a .951 OPS through 29 at bats! Spring training or not, that is impressive, a certainly a part of the reason why Swihart staying makes sense.
More regular playing time for Swihart was a gamble the team was willing to make. They know what he has in the tank, and it was enough to waive a popular clubhouse guy and a quality backstop in Leon. Swihart staying means Vazquez will have to be at his best, because one of the game’s (former) top catching prospects is ready to reemerge.