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March 26, 2012 at 7:40 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Blake Swihart and Ryan Kalish

Blake Swihart
Position: Catcher
2011 Team: Gulf Coast Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 20

Swihart shows fluid swings from both side of the plate. He generates easy batspeed when bringing the head of the bat through the hitting zone. Swihart is capable of producing solid backspin when squaring offerings up . He controls the head of the bat well both right-handed and left-handed, which enables him to get the barrel on pitches in all tiers of the strike zone. He has the hitting tool to develop into a plus hitter for batting average who drives the ball to all fields. Swihart’s swing is ideal for producing line drives and as his strength improves he has the potential for solid-average power. He has pull power from both sides of the plate and a sweet spot into the right-centerfield gap as a lefty. He gets on top of fastballs well when hitting right-handed and turns well on pitches as a lefty. Defensively, he is light on his feet behind the plate and is very fluid with his actions. Aided by his athleticism, Swihart gets out of his crouch smoothly. His quick reflexes allow him to react instinctively to balls bounced in the dirt and he fronts these offerings with his body to control them. Swihart’s defensive package is rounded out by a plus arm. His release is smooth and keeps his throws to second from tailing too much into the runner.

Development Needs: Swihart presently lacks strength and needs to continue to fill out to push his overall game. While he generates backspin when driving the ball, he lacks the extra carry because his lower body is currently small. Improved lower body and core strength will allow him to develop home run power. Swihart’s ability to stick at the catching position is also tied into how much he fills out. He shows the defensive skills, but his body isn’t typical for the position. Even with physical maturation, his legs do not look like they may be able to get big enough to handle the grind of squatting behind the plate for 125-130 games a season. Moving off the position down the line can also be a way to preserve his athleticism and keep him from getting beat up behind the dish. Swihart’s approach and pitch recognition will have to come up to speed against professional pitching. Early on he has been consistently out in front against breaking balls. The ability to pick these offerings up early out of opposing pitchers’ hands will be key to making more solid contact against them. Swihart also does not get on top of balls in the upper tier of the strike zone well presently to produce line drives. He jams himself when trying to attack them and beats the ball into the ground. He also looks to pull the ball consistently from both sides of the plate and is in the early stages of developing his opposite field stroke.

2012 Outlook: Swihart has been working with the A-Ball group during spring training and a good chance to break camp with Greenville when the teams head north at the end of the month. His athleticism and maturity jump out when watching him on the field. Swihart will need some time to adjust to the pitching in the South Atlantic League, but I see him being capable of producing consistent contact as he builds his level of experience this season. The challenge of full-season baseball will also be good for pushing his approach and pitch recognition. If Swihart can work more to the whole field, he should produce hard contact and show doubles power this year. He can be inconsistent though if he is pulling the ball too frequently, especially left-handed. His in-game power will be below-average. Expect Swihart’s home run totals to be lower in his early career and ramp up over time with physical development. The organization will also likely try to keep him fresh over the course of year and balance his workload behind the plate given this is his first full season as a professional. Swihart is a talented baseball player with some polish, but also some rough edges. 2012 is a year to begin the learning process to take strides in his areas of need.

Ryan Kalish
Position: Outfield
2011 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 24

Kalish has a solid overall set of skills and the tools to impact all areas of the game. A very patient hitter, he methodically grinds through plate appearances to pick out pitches he can drive to all fields and is not afraid to take a strike or two. He hits inside of the baseball well and has learned to create more loft with his swing to drive balls in the air. Kalish’s above-average pitch recognition allows him to wait back confidently on secondary offerings. This aspect of his game improved considerably as he gained experience in the upper minors. He projects as a hitter capable of hitting around .280 at the major league level and able to get on base via walks due to his batting eye as well. Kalish has always been strong, especially in the forearms and legs. As he has learned to get more leverage out of his swing, he has shown more in-game power. Kalish can produce seasons of 18-20 home runs as he gains experience against major league pitching. Able to play all three outfield positions, he is best suited as a corner outfielder and has the arm to be a right fielder. He accelerates well during his routes to close quickly on flyballs. Kalish has also adjusted the last couple of seasons with slowing the game down defensively and not needlessly rushing things. With speed that grades as solid-average, he gets good reads off of opposing pitchers when attempting to steal. He is a polished basestealer that can pile up 20-25 stolen bases. Kalish has the ceiling of a solid-average major league regular in right field.

Development Needs: Kalish lost his 2011 season due to shoulder and neck injuries. He would have likely gained development time at the major league level last season. Kalish is now going to have to ramp back up due to his time away from the field. He has some adjustments to make against big league pitching if he is to reach his offensive potential. Kalish can still chop down on the ball with his swing to beat pitches into the ground. While he has improved the leverage he produces with his swing, he is not always consistent with it. Kalish has to work to keep his swing mechanics together. His ability to tap into and produce enough power rests with putting enough balls in the air with backspin. While he can play centerfield defensively, he is more of an emergency guy or spot starter there. He needs to produce consistent levels of hard contact or otherwise he will end up a fourth outfielder. Because he has to work harder at keeping his swing in a groove, he may end up being a streaky hitter at the major league level. Kalish has always been a player who is dedicated to his craft, however, and displays the type of makeup to maximize his skill set. When he is off at the plate he is prone to over-pulling the ball as well. Kalish does not have big home run power to the opposite field, but hits line drives hard into the left-centerfield gap. Staying true to his approach is important for him to work out of ruts and prevent opposing pitchers from constantly working him away.

2012 Outlook: Kalish is currently rehabbing from labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder and will not be ready to begin the season. A rehab assignment in the lower minors is likely before rejoining the Pawtucket roster. Kalish will need time to regain his timing and get comfortable on the field again after the long layoff. It is also likely he comes back as a designated hitter and eases back into the outfield once his shoulder is strong enough for him to let loose on throws. The majority of his 2012 season is centered on getting back to the level of being ready to contribute in the big leagues. Steps are going to be slow in the early stages of his comeback, with the idea things will begin to build upon each other as it gets going. Outside of rebuilding shoulder strength, the biggest area for Kalish is getting his timing back at the plate. His strong pitch recognition should help him, but may take time to show again. Once Kalish gets back onto the field, the timetable for contributing in the majors depends on factors both within and outside of his control. Given his work ethic and drive, I see him doing his part in 2012 and putting himself in position for a call-up should the big club need to reach down during the second half of the season.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen.