In high school, Blake Swihart received instruction at the Albuquerque Baseball Academy from Ryan Kellner, a former catcher in the Dodgers system. As he watched the promising young player, Kellner saw similarities to Russell Martin, so he suggested that Swihart experiment with life behind the plate. He also suggested that the righthanded Swihart try his hand at switch-hitting.
"If he walks into a showcase and teams see a 'C' for catcher and 'S' for switch-hitter, immediately there's some interest," Kellner said. "That's kind of how it came to where we put Blake, where people were forced to see his ability."
Blake starred with the U.S. national 18-and-under team in 2010, batting .448/.492/.845.
Swihart's high school senior season was highlighted by winning the Gatorade Player of the year in New Mexico.
Swihart committed to the University of Texas in 2011, his senior year at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. (But then he got drafted by the Red Sox. See below.)
In 2012, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Swihart as the 3rd-best prospect in the Red Sox organization. In the winter before 2014 spring training, they rated Blake as 5th-best prospect in the Red Sox farm system. And he was named the #1 best prospect in the Red Sox organization in the spring of 2015.
In 2013, Blake was named the Red Sox minor league Defensive Player of the Year.
Blake has exceptional agility and athleticism for a catcher. “I’ve always been able to run really well. I’ve got a really quick first couple steps. My dad had me play basketball for a couple years just so I could get my feet quicker so I can move. That’s what makes me different from most catchers, I believe,” said Swihart.
“I’m just kind of a different-looking catcher I guess. I feel really athletic back there. I can move really well back there. If I’m confident in myself to get in front of a ball that maybe someone else won’t get to, that may take me to the next level."
- Admitted extrovert, Swihart has found that the best way to learn and get better at his position is simply to ask for help from all the sources around him.
“If I have a question, I’m going to ask it, even if it’s a dumb question, I’m going to ask it. I’m going to go up to a pitcher and ask him, ‘Hey, what do you like in this situation? What do you like here? What do you like there?’” he said. “To be a catcher, you have to be a little bit vocal.”
January, 2015: MLB.com named Blake Swihart the best catching prospect in baseball.
May 2, 2015: Ever since Swihart was selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2011 draft, he tried to envision what it would be like to throw on the gear and catch a game at Fenway Park.
A day after Ryan Hanigan suffered a broken bone in his right hand, Swihart got to find out.
It was an eventful debut which included Swihart's first career hit, a mad dash from first to home on a double by Mookie Betts, and a solid afternoon of execution with starting pitcher Miley. The only downer was that the performance came in a loss to the Yankees.
"I thought about it almost every day. It's a dream come true," Swihart said. (I Browne - Mlb.com - May 2, 2015)
In 2015, Arlan Swihart was in the stands at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City with roughly 200 friends and family members, experiencing a Father's Day weekend like no other.
Arlan looked behind the plate when the Red Sox were on defense, and saw his son squatting down with the gear on. Blake arrived in the Major Leagues on May 2, 2015, and he's the first to admit he never would have gotten there without his dad, who pushed him constructively during his youth in New Mexico.
"Ever since I was young, he's always been my coach," said Blake. "He showed me the fundamentals of the game. He showed me how to swing. He was my first hitting coach. Everything happens because of him. He kind of mapped out my plan for me, sports-wise, growing up."
An athlete himself, Arlan played college basketball and softball in highly competitive leagues.
"At some point, around the time he was 6, I figured out that he could catch everything I'd throw at him, which was probably in the mid- 80s," said Arlan. "I figured I should probably engage and try to coach him a little bit. The nice thing was he was extremely coachable. He's a pleaser. He wants to make everybody happy in the world, and he really works hard to do exactly what you want." "He texts me every single day," said Blake. "We talk every day. Sometimes, he'll text me, and he'll say, 'I think you're doing this, this and this. Think about it.' He watches everything and gives me feedback on everything. He's still my coach and dad at the same time." (Browne - mlb.com - 6/19/15)
Blakes dad, Arlan Swihart learned early that his son played until the last out. "It's amazing. I remember when he was 10 years old, we were playing in a semifinal game, a tournament, and we were undefeated," said Arlan. "A kid was up to bat and some of the kids on the bench were saying, 'We're going to lose, we're going to lose,' and Blake said, 'Come on guys. We're not going to lose this game. We haven't lost all year.'"Some of the kids again said, 'We're going to lose.' And Blake said to them, 'Let's hope [the next two batters] don't know that.' One of them got on base, and the other one hit a home run. We won. Blake doesn't know the word quit."Arlan made Blake quit basketball and football late in his high school career—only because he had his son's long-term interests in mind. "You just had to look at it realistically," said Arlan. "I think his senior year in high school, you could ask his high school coach, I think they would have won the states that year. They wound up making it to the final four. He was upset with me. I said, 'Blake, I'm just your dad, trying to figure this out."'"I also think he could have played college football and been very good with his arm strength and ability to see the field. But 6-foot quarterbacks in the NFL are few and far between. I'm a risk manager, and I had to weigh what the cost-benefits were. I think baseball was where he'd have the best opportunity."
Swihart first realized he had the potential to play professional baseball as a sophomore in high school.
"I was throwing a bullpen at the (Albuquerque) Baseball Academy. I hit like 88-90," Swihart said. "And then we went to watch the (Triple-A) Albuquerque Isotopes play that night with my dad. And the pitcher there was throwing 88 to 90. I was, 'Hey, dad. I can do that.' He goes, 'If you work hard, you can.'"
Swihart, though, never considered his future to be as a professional pitcher.
"No, no. I knew I did not want to pitch," Swihart said. "I like hitting way too much."He pitched his first two years of high school, but his dad Arlan didn't let him pitch his final two years except one special (and now memorable) occasion. "Against my old high school," Swihart said. "He let me have 15 pitches to close the game out. The first pitch, I think it was 97 (mph). The second pitch was 97 and I hit the kid in the wrist and broke his wrist so ..."
Swihart received confirmation when he saw the batter the following day."He showed up with a cast," Swihart said. (Christopher Smith - email@example.com - March 9, 2017)
June 2011: The Red Sox chose Blake with their first round pick, out of Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. He was Boston's compensation pick from the Rangers having signed 3B Adrian Beltre. Swihart was the highest-drafted player out of New Mexico since Shane Andrews in 1990, and it was the earliest Boston has taken a catcher since John Marzano in 1984.
Scout Matt Mahoney signed Swihart just before the August 15 deadline, for a bonus of $2.5 million, a franchise record for a position player. Blake shows a package of tools that draws comparisons to a young Buster Posey.
|Nickname:||N/A||Position:||C - LF|
|DOB:||4/3/1992||Agent:||Legacy Sports Group-Greg Genske|
|Birth City:||Bedford, TX|
|Draft:||Red Sox #1 - 2011 - Out of high school (NM)|
Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher with decent power from both sides. He started switch-hitting his sophomore year of high school (2009). He has a quick line-drive bat, natural power and a good feel for hitting.
Blake is especially impressive from the right side—his natural side—where he gets really good extension and lift. But he has more pull power as a lefthanded hitter.
He is an above-average hitter with potential to hit for average power. He keeps the bat in the hitting zone for a long time. He makes hard contact.
He can hit 15-20 homers per season when he reaches his prime.
Swihart worked on both of his swings by switching back and forth between hitting lefthanded and righthanded, regardless of the pitcher he's facing, early in his career.
His swing his fluid from both sides of the plate.
Blake is adding discipline, selectivity and more patience. He is also improving his pitch recognition. He is an aggressive swinger from both sides of the plate and has learned to take a more conservative two-strike approach.
But overall, his aggressive approach limits his walks. He displays good pitch recognition, typically swings at strikes and sends line drives screaming to the gaps.
- Though still stronger from the right side, Swihart shows above-average bat speed and bat control from both sides of the plate, and he won’t be beaten by velocity, while switch-hitting will limit his vulnerability to breaking balls. His swing is geared for line drives.
- Swihart is a little inconsistent with his swing because he's very aggressive and he'll chase some pitches out of the zone, especially early in the count. But he makes a lot of hard, line-drive contact that should produce average power once he adds strength and loft to his stroke.
- June 4, 2015: Swihart hit his first Major League home run. He became the youngest Red Sox catcher to hit a home run since Rich Gedman in 1982.
- August 28, 2015: Swihart hit an inside-the-park homer off Carlos Torres.
- As of the start of the 2017 season, Blake's career Major League stats were a .271 batting average, 5 home runs and 95 hits with 36 RBI's in 350 at-bats.
Blake is an impressive backstop, a very good, smooth catch-and-throw guy. He has good hands,blocking and receiving the ball well and an easy catching style. He has good athleticism.
He really only started catching regularly during the summer of 2010. But his natural ability allowed him to come on very quickly back there. He has quick feet and moves well back there. He's more athletic than most catchers.
"I never was a catcher in high school, so I had to learn how to do everything. Talk to everybody, talk to other catchers, talk to (Red Sox catching instructor) Chad Epperson, talk to all the coordinators and take in what I could take in that would help me the best.”
Blake blocks the hell out of the ball. In 2013, Swihart embraced a daily pre-game drill routine aimed at improving his ability to block pitches, which improved along his pitch framing and game management.
He works his fanny off back there, runs the defense and controls the game tempo impressively. In fact, the defining characteristic for Swihart is his supreme athleticism behind the plate. His flexibility allows him to block better and pop more quickly when gunning for base-stealers.
THROWING OUT BASE-STEALERS
Swihart has pop times that stay right at 1.95 seconds. And as he learned some better release mechanics, his pop times dropped to 1.75 to 1.85 seconds.
He has good footwork, a strong arm and has shortened his arm stroke.
Blake uses his strong legs to get out of the crouch quickly before firing the ball to 2nd base from his above-average arm. He has pop times of 1.85 to 1.95.
In 2012, Swihart threw out 31 percent of South Atlantic League basestealers.
He threw out a Carolina League high of 42 percent of attempting base-thieves in 2013.
With the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs in 2014, Blake threw out 47 percent of base-stealers. And that led the Eastern League by nearly 10 percent. His pop times in 2014 were averaging about 1.9 seconds and getting below 1.8 on occasion.
- Blake moves well back there. He is very athletic.
Swihart receives high marks for his game-calling, leadership and ability to read opposing hitters.
"He's such a good athlete and he’s such a hard worker, and he’s really competitive in everything he does. He’s kind of taken that to his approach to defense,” Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said in Oct, 2013.
“He does a great job of separating the offense and defense. He’s always focused on the pitching-catcher relationship, and I think the athleticism and the hard work have paid off so he could take those steps forward to be an excellent defensive catcher in an organization that has a couple of pretty good defenders.”
- Swihart earned the 2014 Captain’s Catcher Award, given annually by Baseball America to the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues.
Blake has worked so hard at learning his position that he is now plus in all phases, whether it was receiving, throwing, calling the games, continuing to get better and better every day. It is a pleasure to see his enthusiasm every day and his desire to improve.
Swihart is really engaged in the game out in front of the plate, running the infield on plays and taking charge of the situation that the game dictates.
Before 2015 spring training, a Baseball America writer asked some scouts, "How many catchers are there like Swihart in the minors?
“There are none,” said one evaluator, a testament to his offensive and defensive potential as well as his head-turning athleticism. He has made huge strides behind the plate, where he now profiles as an above-average defender.
Evaluators marvel that he has the athleticism and speed to play virtually anywhere on the field—some even suggested he couldplay center or second—though behind the plate, he has a chance to be a two-way force.
- Blake added left field to his plate in 2016.And by late May he was was already tracking down balls in the gap in a way that highlighted his unusual athleticism and the above-average speed that make him a bit of a novelty as a catcher.
- Early in 2017, the Red Sox spoke highly of the improvements made by Swihart in his setup, permitting him to create a better target for pitchers and improve his framing ability.
Catching instructor Dana LeVangie noted that Swihart needs to refine elements such as blocking so that he feels more comfortable calling for secondary pitches that might bounce.
“It’s a really good option that we have Blake Swihart, who’s built his stock back up to where it needs to be for him and us. We’ve got a good thing . . .
“He needs to go out and play a lot, play when he’s feeling good and feeling tired, and learn how to be more consistent that way,” LeVangie said. “He’s not a finished product, but he’s making strides to become more effective back there.” (Alex Speier - Baseball America - 4/21/2017)
- Blake lacks speed. He is pretty slow on the bases, even for a catcher.
- August 1-15, 2012: Swihart was on the D.L. with a strained hip flexor.
- July 1-20, 2015: Blake was on the D.L. with a sprained left foot.
June 5-Nov. 3, 2016: Blake was on the DL with a left ankle strain.
That required the repair of his peroneal tendon sheath in the ankle.
- April 30-May 26, 2017: A left finger contusion put Swihart on the DL.