One year ago Blake Swihart was one of the premier prospects in the game, getting ready to assume the starting role for the Boston Red Sox. Yet today, in spite of a decent debut at a premium fantasy position, Swihart doesn't crack the ESPN Top 250 for 2016 and he ranks at only #199 on their keeper rankings. That's quite a fall for Baseball America's #17 prospect heading into 2015, especially considering he posted a very respectable .712 OPS over the course of half of the season.
Overall last year Swihart hit .274 in the big leagues and that actually seems like a number he will improve upon. It's important to note that in every single minor league stop where he had at least 75 plate appearances, Swihart hit .298 or better minus hitting .262 in his first real taste of professional action in 2012. At a position known for low batting averages, Swihart is a guy that should be a plus for your fantasy team as a guy who can regularly hit in the .280-.290 range.
Swihart isn't a big power threat, and that's one of the knocks on him as a fantasy player. He hit only 5 homers to go with 17 doubles last year in the big leagues, but the hope is that he gains more experience some of his in-game power comes along. He did after all hit 13 homers in the upper minors in 2014. He's likely going to hit about 10 homers this year, but it's certainly possible he gets closer to the 15 range as he gains comfort in the big leagues and with his role handling the pitching staff. He looks average at best for a catcher power wise, but he's not going to hurt you.
Swihart had 31 RBI last year, a number that projects out to about 60 over the course of a full season. That's an average number for a catcher, but it is a number that could be higher in 2016 as the Red Sox were a disappointment in 2015. If guys like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval can get their bats going, Swihart could be the beneficiary of more RBI chances at the bottom of the order in Boston.
Swihart scored 47 runs last year in his half season, a number that could give him 90 runs over the course of the full season. The fact he runs well for a catcher definitely helps here, and a return to form for some other Red Sox could mean he approaches that lofty number in 2016. This is another category where he is plus for catchers.
The fact Swihart runs well for a catcher translates here as well. He stole 5 bases last year after getting the call to Boston, after posting 6, 7, and 8 bases in his minor league seasons. He's not a real threat to steal bases, but that 5-10 steals from your catcher is a nice little bonus from a position that rarely provides much production in the category.
Swihart is a guy who posted an above average .712 OPS last year, and that's a number I expect him to improve upon this year. Throughout the minors he has done a very good job of hitting for average, and I expect that to continue in the big leagues as he gains comfort. He's also a guy that knows how to take the occasional walk, leading to a career minor league .340 OBP. I can definitely see him posting a .335 OBP regularly in the big leagues. His slugging percentage last year was .392, slightly off his minor league career .427 mark. Based on his age and track record, I could see him posting a slightly higher .435 slugging percentage in the big leagues. That adds up to a .765 OPS, which is certainly a real asset at the catcher position.
Swihart actually started off slowly in the big leagues and started to get going as he got more comfortable. His month by month splits taken from Baseball-Reference are below to illustrate that point.
Swihart was awful in his first taste of the big leagues in May. He became adequate in June after making some adjustments, but July was a bit of a lost month due to injury. He returned to tear it up in August, and then hit 3 of his 5 homers in September.
That leads to a first half triple slash line of .241/.279/.323 in 40 games, as compared to a second half line of .303/.353/.452 in 44 games- an extremely impressive .805 OPS for a catcher.
Swihart isn't a guy I would advocate for being selected early, but he's an excellent candidate to be a backup selected as an upside play. Or if you fail to land one of the top targets, you could put off drafting a catcher until taking Swihart very late as a starter to avoid overpaying on lesser talents without the ability to bring what Swihart does to the table.
He's got the potential to be a bigger contributor in the future, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him more than hold his own and provide value from the catcher spot at next to no cost.