The Sad Reality of the Swihart Saga

It was reported a while back that Blake Swihart’s agent has officially requested that the Boston Red Sox trade his client. Swihart has been riding the bench for Boston this year, stuck in a sort of purgatory of playing time, and this request is as apt of an exemplification of his career arc as any.

In the present, Swihart has no minor league options, so he’s been relegated to what basically has amounted to a spectator role simply because the Red Sox can’t figure out what to do with him. He’s a catcher by trade, but with two already MLB established backstops ahead of him on the depth chart, Boston has decided to use him – or at least list him – as a utility player, given his supreme athleticism. That hasn’t amounted to much either, though, as Brock Holt has received the overwhelming majority of playing time designated for a utility type player, leaving Swihart with just 30 at-bats in 2018.

At one time considered the top catching prospect in all of baseball, Swihart was looking ahead to a very bright future, but to be brutally honest, the Red Sox organization has grossly mismanaged Swihart’s career. Here’s a quick timeline for you, and how it got Swihart to this point.

Swihart was called up to the big club in May of 2015 when both Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan, Boston’s two catchers at the time, found themselves on the DL. He sprained his foot in June, went through a short DL and rehab stint, then returned to hit .303/.353/.452 from July 20 to the end of the year.

With Vazquez still finishing up his rehab for Tommy John surgery, Swihart was rewarded for his impressive 2015 campaign with the starting catcher job to open 2016. 12 days into the season, though, Boston activated Vazquez and sent Swihart down to AAA, burning his final minor league option. Mistake #1.

Shortly after, Boston decided that they’re left field situation is objectionable, so they decide to make a wild move and call Swihart back up, transforming him into a left fielder. Fair enough on this one. Swihart is supremely athletic and therefor should theoretically be capable of handling the outfield, and to be honest, the left field depth chart was a mess. However, he was never projected to hit well enough to really be a full time left fielder, so the whole “every day starter in left” idea was a little silly.

Anyway, fast forward a bit, and Swihart suffered a severe ankle sprain when crashing into the wall at Fenway, derailing any progress he had made to that point. This can’t really be blamed on the Red Sox, at least not fully, considering left field is position far less susceptible to injury than catcher, but that ankle injury hampered him for a long time, even into 2017, and it caused Swihart to change his swing in order to compensate.

With a new swing, Swihart struggled to begin 2017, which isn’t unprecedented for a young player. Normally, though, said player would be sent down to the minors to work on some things and develop a little further, but since Boston wasted his final option in 2016, they’re forced to keep him up to toil away, which brings us to the present trade rumors.

Now, Boston doesn’t necessarily want to trade Swihart, but with Dustin Pedroia returning soon, there will be one less available roster slot. Boston could finesse their way around it for a while, perhaps sending Eduardo Nunez for a phantom DL stint to rest his troubles knees, but eventually someone is going to have to go, and with Brock Holt (the only other viable candidate for a trade or assignment) playing very well, Swihart is the odd man out. The Red Sox, however, are reportedly asking for more than expected in return for Swihart.

There’s no problem with asking high and settling for a little less, but rumor has it that Boston is seeking at least one top level prospect to go along with at least one Major League talent and/or more prospects. That’s a lot to ask for a player who has barely played in the last two years and, when he has played, hasn’t performed up to standards.

Regardless of what kind of return the Red Sox will get for Swihart and where he’ll end up, it’s hard not to root for him. He seems like a really good kid, he possesses a lot of untapped talent, and with a little nurturing he could develop into a very fine player, and it’s a shame how badly the Sox have botched his tenure in Boston, because he could have been a stalwart of the future for them.

(Header photo credit: Boston Herald)

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