Our former colleague Andrew Ball ranked Red Sox' catching prospect Blake Swihart as his #2 prospect in their system last October, despite some very interesting prospects in the system with better performances ending up behind him. And as he (and frankly, any one of us) will tell you, we know we're not always going to be right on our analysis, but we're hoping it happens more often than not. Here's a bit of what Andrew wrote last year:
A unique player in his own right, Swihart has often been compared to Buster Posey because of his athleticism and hitting prowess. He should be set to start 2014 in Double-A, and it's safe to expect somewhat of a breakout at the plate. Switch-hitting catchers with quality hit tools don't exactly manifest very often, making Swihart a prized asset regardless if the power ever becomes average, with the potential for a top-round talent if it develops.
It's nice when these things turn out the way you (Andrew in this case) thought they would.
Swihart's calling card as a prospect had been primarily that he will be a fine defensive catcher, and that he had the potential to turn into an above-average hitter. Based on what we've seen this year, that transformation has already begun.
Swihart started the 2014 season at AA, hitting .300/.353/.487 with 12 home runs and seven stolen bases over 92 games. The Red Sox promoted him to AAA in August, and he hit .261/.282/.377 with a home run and a stolen base over 18 games before the end of the season. Overall, he finished up the season with a .293/.341/.469 slash line, 13 home runs, 64 RBI, and 8 stolen bases in 110 games.
When you look at that production, and compare against the current crop of major league catchers, it really starts jumping off the page. Here's the current list of catchers who match Swihart's production in home runs and batting average:
Buster Posey (.299, 18 HR)
Jonathan Lucroy (.298, 13 HR)
Even if you stretch it to include hitters above .275 and 12 home runs, that only adds Devin Mesoraco (.280, 20), Yan Gomes (.289, 17 HR). That's it. What you're looking at with that production is a potential top 5 player at his position, with no reason to believe he won't still be at the position in a few years (with the usual injury caveats). But do the reports point to this being a real breakout, or just a single year blip?
Swihart is considered to have an above-average hit tool, capable of providing good batting averages (.280+) and good on-base percentages on a regular basis. There have been questions about how much power he will hit for, but the consensus has been that he should provide at least double-digit home runs. He's not likely to provide a ton of value on the basepaths, but could be good for a few steals each year, a nice bonus at a position that doesn't have many players providing any at all.
While this year's production doesn't necessarily stand out among all players, it's worth remembering that Swihart is a catcher, and by nearly all accounts, a very good one defensively. There has been no doubt for a while now that Swihart will play every day behind the plate in the major leagues, and with the performance this year, we are finally seeing it all come together on the offensive side as well.
We likely won't see Swihart in the majors until later in 2015, as he does not need to be added to the 40-man roster until the end of the 2015 season, but there's no reason to think that he won't be the starting backstop for the Red Sox by the time Opening Day 2016 rolls around, if not sooner. Once he is an everyday player, he can be a top option at his position, and potentially one of the top options eventually.