As a high school prospect in the Albuquerque area, infielder-turned-catcher Blake Swihart drew serious interest from scouts due to his unique profile. His mature swing from both sides of the plate, good athleticism, and plus arm enticed the Boston Red Sox to select him 26th overall in 2011 and move him behind the plate full-time.
Although Swihart spent the vast majority of his high school career as an infielder, he has made a quick transition to catching in the professional ranks. His bat is progressing, as well. After hitting .262/.307/.395 at Single-A Greenville last season, the switch-hitter moved to the more pitcher-friendly environment of High-A Salem and the Carolina League in 2013. Swihart’s offensive numbers have improved drastically in his second full season, as he’s hitting .294/.358/.423 through 99 games. And the 21-year-old isn’t showing any signs of tiring down the stretch, batting .366 in 19 contests this month.
On the national level, Swihart’s season appears to be flying under the radar. His numbers aren’t sexy, but he’s a recent first-round pick and a catching prospect who’s steadily making strides both with the bat and behind the dish. When Jason Parks scouted Swihart as part of Baseball Prospectus’ Eyewitness Accounts series in July, he felt confident in the prospect’s bat and glove, giving him future solid-average grades on both.
In a vacuum, a 5+ bat/glove profile (with a 6+ arm) doesn’t seem particularly special, but the position is key in this instance. There are few backstops in the game who provide a legitimate two-way threat, and those who do are highly coveted. As a result, Parks called Swihart a “top 101 prospect in the game with helium,” commenting that his bat “could develop into a .275 hitter with 10 bombs and 20-plus doubles.” He also wrote that Swihart has a “better glove than…led to believe” due to his athleticism, solid receiving skills, and work ethic.
Few scouts have doubted Swihart’s talent with the bat, dating back to his amateur days in New Mexico. His body and catching ability have been the primary concerns. As Swihart mentions in the video below, not every professional team wanted him behind the plate; many saw him as a third baseman or outfielder. Some scouts and onlookers point to Swihart’s seemingly slim 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame and wonder whether it can withstand a full-season workload at such a physically demanding position. While there is room for Swihart’s body to fill out––particularly in his lower half––and he’ll never be a thickly built backstop, his frame is stronger than typically advertised. His rapidly developing receiving skills and strong arm should enable him to stick at catcher long term.
When Jason Parks and I were in Salem last month to watch the Red Sox and Myrtle Beach Pelicans, I caught up with Swihart to chat about his second full season, his background as a high school infielder, and his transition behind the plate in pro ball.