During each positional week, our prospect team is selecting one or two prospects that we are hopeful will make an impact in fantasy leagues in 2015. I'm lucky enough this week to feature the top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, Blake Swihart. Selected 26th overall in 2011 out of high school in New Mexico, Swihart was always viewed as a bat-first prospect with a high probability of moving off the position. He signed for a $2.5 million bonus and headed to A ball in his first full professional season. He moved step-by-step up the organizational ladder finally ending with 18 games in AAA to conclude his 2014 season. This leaves Swihart one step away from reaching the Majors and becoming a legitimate factor in the fantasy landscape. Immediate success typically eludes catching prospects, even the elite ones like Swihart, so while the report that follows is extremely optimistic don't cut bait too soon if there aren't immediate results. Learning the intricacies of handling a pitching staff and calling a big-league game behind the plate are enough of a learning curve to put the offensive adjustments on the backburner.
Blake Swihart from a tools perspective, lags behind position-mates Jorge Alfaro and Francisco Mejia, but he puts the tools together in a package that will arguably be more valuable for fantasy owners and Boston fans alike. The biggest differentiator is his elite makeup that makes its way into every scouting report. Swihart is a leader on the field and motivated to succeed. It is evident to all who watch that he is passionate about the game and willing to take the necessary steps to improve. His intangibles separate him, but his underlying skillset is good enough to stand on it's own. Swihart's best tool is a plus hit tool that is matched with a mature approach. He's a switch-hitter and reports seem to favor his left-handed swing. Swihart tends to get too pull-heavy from the right-handed side, but remains patient and willing to work the strike zone from either side of the plate. He remains loose through the zone and maintains a fluid, line-drive swing. The swing path will eat into his power numbers, but should generate elite batting averages for the catcher position. Swihart has continued to improve on his raw power and has improved his body every year since joining the Red Sox organization. As a result, his power projection has grown from fringe average to a potentially plus tool. There's more power in the right-handed swing but it's pull-heavy power. It isn't unreasonable to think Swihart could consistently hit 15 HRs a year to go with a .280+ AVG.
There's an interesting debate going on for the top spot in the catcher's prospect ranking. On one hand you have Jorge Alfaro who is an absolute toolshed, and has a ceiling Swihart couldn't even dream of. On the other you have Swihart, who has an impressive skillset in his own right and will maximize every bit of talent he has thanks to a great work ethic. Swihart is further along in his development, so he'll generate a quicker return, but gambling on Alfaro could pay off handsomely in dynasty leagues. I'm inclined to lean towards Alfaro given the current landscape of the catching position. There are so many options right at the replacement level for 12 and 14 team leagues, that I'd be more inclined to take a risk on Alfaro and snag a backup plan if it doesn't work out. Swihart isn't far behind and the two will rank closely to each other in our Top 200 prospects coming out later this offseason.
For a position that sees so many talented bats move away, down the defensive spectrum, Blake Swihart stands as a shining example of a prospect with limited defensive chops that can still make it work. There's no doubt he will play catcher at the highest level, and there's a really good chance he does so at an elite level for championship contending teams. His game translates well for fantasy purposes thanks to many alternative options offering only elite power while killing you in batting average. Blake Swihart should contribute at an above-average pace in every stat (minus SB) and will be a consistent Top 10 pick for the foreseeable future. The majority of Swihart's 2015 will be spent in AAA, but don't rule out an early call-up if there's an injury or the season doesn't go Boston's way. The club has made it clear that he is their catcher of the future and won't hesitate to give him a shot if he proves he's ready.