November 14, 2014 at 7:30 AM
All entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
#1: Blake Swihart, C
2014 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs, Pawtucket Red Sox
Final Stats: 451 PA, .293/.341/.469, 26 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 31 BB, 80 K, 8 SB
Season in Review: Expectations were very high for Swihart coming off a year in which he hit .298/.366/.428 for Salem and was named the organization's Defensive Player of the Year. To begin the year he was assigned to Portland, where he was almost three years younger than the average position player in the Eastern League. Swihart had little trouble making the transition from High A to Double-A, becoming an almost boring model of consistency. He never went more than two starts without a hit with the Sea Dogs and showed increased power, hitting 12 home runs in 380 plate appearances after hitting just nine in 800 trips to the plate in the previous two seasons. His final line in Portland was .300/.353/.487, and had he qualified, he would have finished seventh in the league in average and slugging and ninth in OPS, while also throwing out an impressive 47 percent of runners, good for, essentially, second in the league.
He was promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox on August 4, and he kept the momentum going at the new stop. Swihart recorded hits in eight of his first nine games, with two doubles, a triple, and a home run. However, he did struggle to control the strike zone, walking just once and striking out 10 times. Those struggles caught up to Swihart, who hit only .219/.242/.250 over his final nine regular season games, thus lowering his overall Triple-A line to .261/.282/.377. Defensively, he threw out three of nine runners, an unremarkable drop in his success rate given the sample size. In the International League playoffs, he went 6 for 18 with a double and a walk over five starts, although his season ended a couple games early after he was hit by a pitch in the finger in his last start. At the end of the year in addition to jumping up to the top spot on the SoxProspects.com rankings, Swihart was also named 2014 SoxProspects.com Season-End All-Star, 2014 Eastern League All-Star, and the 2014 Portland Sea Dogs MVP. - Will Woodward
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: With the graduations of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, Swihart moved to the top of the SoxProspects rankings following another standout season. Over the course of the year, he put to rest any lingering concerns about his ability to stick at catcher and started to tap into his power potential. Since he joined the system, Swihart has physically transformed, now possessing a strong core, solid lower half, and a build that looks like it could handle the rigors of catching at the major league level. More impressively, he has filled out physically without losing athleticism, still grading as an average runner and showing lateral quickness and quick feet behind the plate. Though not up to the standard of Christian Vazquez defensively, Swihart more than holds his own with a plus arm and quick release, consistently recording 1.8- to 1.9-second pop times on throws to second base. He has greatly improved his pitch blocking and receiving since he entered the system and now projects as a solid-average to plus defender.
That defensive profile alone is enough to carry Swihart based upon the low standard at the catching position, but he can also hit, making him a legitimate two-way threat. A switch-hitter, Swihart shows a fluid swing from both sides of the plate, with plus batspeed and quick, explosive hands. He has an all-fields approach and strong contact skills, with his hit tool grading out as having plus potential. His pitch recognition is solid, and he has a mature approach at the plate. This year, Swihart started to tap into his raw power, translating it into game power. He has the ability to drive the ball with backspin from both sides, and should eventually settle into average to solid-average power and 15-20 home runs a season. Swihart has established himself as one of the best - if not THE best - catching prospects in baseball, and he is close to big league ready. After getting a taste of Triple-A to end the season, Swihart will return there in 2015 with an eye towards his first big league call-up, perhaps coming later in the season. - Ian Cundall
Additional editorial support provided by Jonathan Singer.
Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor