By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Coming into the 2015 season, the Red Sox explored possibilities to replace Jon Lester, who had chosen in free agency to sign with the Chicago Cubs. Cole Hamels was available on the trade market, and Blake Swihart was one of the Red Sox prospects Philadelphia truly coveted.
On March 15, 2015, the Red Sox rolled into Clearwater, Florida to play the Philadelphia Phillies with Justin Masterson scheduled to take the mound at the start of the game. As fate would have it, Swihart was scheduled to catch against the team which had been heavily scouting him. It was widely speculated as to whether Swihart was being “showcased.” Before the start of the game, Masterson jokingly said to Swihart: “By the end of this day, you’re going to be a Philadelphia Philly.” No such trade took place, and Swihart was sent down to the minors at the start of the season.
With Christian Vazquez out for the 2015 season due to having to undergo Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, Swihart got the opportunity to catch. As the all-star break approached, several prospects were getting call ups due to the fact the Red Sox were in dead last place, with Torey Lovullo managing the team in John Farrell’s absence due to a cancer diagnosis.
Swihart throughout those final couple months of the season put up respectable numbers, especially for a catcher. His slashline was .274/.319/.392 following his rookie debut, and most impressively of all was his speed around the bases. Jason Varitek, Victor Martinez, David Ross, Sandy Leon, and even Christian Vazquez are all lacked speed as most catchers typically do. However, Swihart was certainly the exception.
As the start of the 2016 season rolled around, the popular opinion among Red Sox fans and observers was that Blake Swihart was likely the primary catcher of the future. He possessed the most offensive upside of any catcher in our system, and it was assumed by most that his defense would improve with more repetition. Unfortunately, with the return of John Farrell, any long term plans to keep Swihart behind the plate were put on hold due to his rough defensive start to the season. Only a few weeks into April, Swihart was optioned back to Pawtucket in favor of Christian Vazquez, who in turn lost his primary catching job to Sandy Leon.
As the spring of 2016 drew to a close, Swihart was converted into a left fielder. He was adapting well, but suffered a season ending foot injury after only a handful of starts in left field. It was the culmination of a series of unfortunate events. His health woes continued into 2017 with only 56 games at Pawtucket with his bothersome foot, and a .190/.246/.292 slash line.
A common theme of the John Farrell era in Boston, was that he lacked the ability to work and connect with young players. Jackie Bradley Jr bounced back and fourth from Boston to Pawtucket like a yo-yo. Will Middlebrooks put the best numbers of his career up for Bobby Valentine, but completely fizzled under Farrell. Most notably, Travis Shaw demonstrated the ability to eventually become a perennial 30/100 player, but was seldom ever allowed to work through his slumps. Immediately after getting traded to the Brewers for Tyler Thornburg, Shaw had a breakout season with 31 home runs and 101 RBI’s under the leadership of Brewers manager Craig Council.
The Red Sox are at a crossroads coming into the 2018 season with Swihart. He no longer has any remaining minor league options. For him to remain with the Red Sox organization, they must leave him on the big league roster if they can find a role for him. If they cannot find a fit for him at Fenway, he will have to be traded, or designated for assignment.
There are no obvious solutions for Swihart. His conversion to the outfield is no longer viable, especially if the Dombrowski finally has his way with Boras in regards to J.D. Martinez. Third base could be a potential option if Devers needs to be optioned, though this would obviously present bigger problems for the Red Sox than just Swihart alone. Should the Red Sox part ways with Sandy Leon, he could potentially slide into a back-up catcher role. Presently, the Red Sox have no second baseman to start the season. If Eduardo Nunez is not signed, it’s possible Swihart can use spring training to try and convert to being a middle infielder. It’s a long shot scenario, but it could come down to leadership and patience. Alex Cora was a middle infielder himself, and could possibly provide the guidance Swihart needs to take on this task.
Leadership was among John Farrell’s biggest failures. After 2013, he only mustered one single play off win. In late 2016, Farrell essentially ended Steven Wright’s stellar season by using him to pinch run, which resulted in a shoulder injury. He continuously failed under pressure late in a games.
Unequivocally Farrell’s biggest failure of all was Blake Swihart. The Red Sox had so much invested in him. Especially considering he would have netted a strong return had Ben Cherington actually traded him. Torey Lovullo showed an unyielding confidence in Swihart, and elevated him to a highly successful debut, before handing him off to John Farrell. However, Farrell was too fixated on his own status within the organization to show the same confidence in his young catcher when he needed it the most. And that’s not fair.
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