January 22, 2016 at 8:00 AM
As an extension of our Top 40 in Review series, we are featuring the seven players who were ranked in the SoxProspects.com Top 40 during the 2015 season and graduated from prospect status. All entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
Final Stats: 87 PA, .321/.368./370, 0 HR, 6 BB, 16 K (minors); 309 PA, .274/.319/.392, 5 HR, 18 BB, 77 K (majors)
Peak System Ranking: 1 (June, 2015)
Graduated: July 2015 (#1)
Season in Review: Ever since being drafted with the 26th overall pick in 2011, Blake Swihart’s stock has been on the rise. He has only ever known the top 10 in the SoxProspects rankings and has slowly crept up through those ranks, eventually landing at the top of the rankings at the end of the 2014 season. While he struggled during his short, 18-game stint at Pawtucket to end 2014, he began 2015 on fire. He hit .338/.392/.382 over his first 18 games, showing he was capable of holding more than his own at the level despite being almost four years younger than the average Triple-A position player. Along the way, he collected Player of the Week honors for the first full week of the season, April 13-19, when he had 12 hits in 25 at-bats (.480 average) and hit safely in each game he played.
His stay in Pawtucket would be short since a need arose at the major league level when Ryan Hanigan suffered a displaced fracture in his knuckle, requiring significant recovery time. With fellow catcher Christian Vazquez already having undergone Tommy John surgery in spring training, there were no other long-term options available to the Red Sox and they decided to turn the job over to the 23-year-old. He struggled at first and only hit .241/.279/.323 with just seven walks to 36 strikeouts across 38 games. Even during his eight-game hit streak from May 22-29, when he hit .321, he did so without any power as all of his hits came as singles.
On June 20th, Swihart hurt his foot while sliding, and while he played a couple games to end the month, it ultimately required a short DL stint and four rehab games split between Pawtucket and Portland. From that point on he looked every bit the star prospect he was billed to be. From July 20th through the end of the season, Swihart got the majority of starts behind the plate (44) and hit an impressive .303/.353/.452 with four home runs, nine doubles, and 11 walks to 41 strikeouts. To put that in perspective, in 2015, the league average triple slash line for catchers was .238/.302/.376, really showing how weak the position is offensively currently, and also how strong Swihart’s performance really was. Swihart projects to be a good defensive catcher as well, but the metrics were split on his performance in the majors, with FanGraphs grading him above average defensively and Baseball Reference grading him slightly below average. He threw out 28% (16 of 57) attempted base stealers, below the major league average of 30% in 2015. -William Woodward
Defensively, Swihart was passable in 2015, though he needs to show significant improvement with blocking balls in the dirt and framing pitches. Swihart struggled with keeping the ball in front of him at times in 2015 and his framing numbers placed him in the bottom tier of catchers in the league. Swihart has the physical tools to improve in those areas and, given his age, he should take a step forward in 2016, especially with Christian Vazquez healthy and waiting in the wings. Swihart also has a plus arm and consistently pops sub-2.0 seconds, allowing him to keep base runners honest.
Overall, Swihart has already established himself as a solid big league player, but he still has plenty of room to improve. His upside is an above-average offensive and defensive catcher, a solid first-division player. Swihart will start 2016 as Boston’s starting catcher and look to build upon his impressive performance in the second half of 2015. - Ian Cundall
Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor