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April 21, 2017 at 8:00 AM

System Restart '17: Catcher

The SoxProspects.com writing staff presents the System Restart, our season-opening, position-by-position preview of the Boston Red Sox farm system for 2017. This is the fourth of seven parts, featuring the system’s catchers. 

Position at a Glance: Catcher is perhaps the weakest position in the Red Sox system, especially if one does not include Blake Swihart (pictured, right), who has exhausted his prospect eligibility although he begins 2017 with Pawtucket. After Swihart, who still features a considerable ceiling and could be a significant major league contributor this season, the drop-off is precipitous. The system’s catching prospects project as future backup options at best and all have issues that could keep them from even reaching that ceiling. However, with Swihart and the current major league combination of Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox ideally should be set at the catcher position for the foreseeable future. While the lack of depth isn’t an issue now, it could be if the club is unable to bring in some new talent in the next few years and neither Vazquez nor Swihart pans out as a long-term stalwart behind the dish. – Ian Cundall 

Top Prospects
Blake Swihart, Pawtucket (Graduated)
After being drafted 26th overall in the 2011 draft, Swihart steadily rose up the rankings and became SoxProspects.com’s top-ranked prospect by the end of the 2014 season. Swihart made his major league debut the next year, taking over as the club's primary backstop after injuries to Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. Entering 2016 as the starting catcher, but only a short leash, he was sent back to Pawtucket after just about a week in favor of Vazquez. He re-emerged about a month later as the team's new primary left fielder, but an ankle injury ended his season after just 13 starts. During his abbreviated 2016, the 24-year-old hit .243/.344/.311 over 29 games at Triple-A and .258/.365/.355 in 19 games for Boston in what became a lost season due to the position shuffling and injury woes. Now recovered, Swihart has the benefit of the team recommitting to him as a catcher. The odd man out in Boston because neither Leon and Vazquez had options remaining, Swihart will get the lion's share of the playing time behind the plate to work on improving his defense, especially consistency and framing. His ability to shore up those parts of his game will be key to finishing his development and approaching the lofty expectations that still follow the former top prospect. – Will Woodward

Roldani Baldwin, Greenville (#45)
After struggling during an initial assignment to Greenville for the 2016 season, Baldwin (pictured, left) was sent down to Lowell, where he put up a 305/.358/.442 slash line as a 20-year-old. Baldwin will return to Greenville for the 2017 season and will look to build upon the improved contact skills he showed in Lowell. Though he is slightly undersized for a catcher, Baldwin has a long swing and sneaky power. He rarely gets cheated at the plate and has a had a propensity to swing and miss, an issue that plagued him during his first taste of Low A, as he had 57 strikeouts and only nine walks in 225 at-bats. Defensively, Baldwin has also played some third base, as he has plenty of arm for either position, but he is still working on the defensive part of his game. Baldwin has a long way to go developmentally, but with some power and a plus arm, he has some intriguing tools in a system devoid of catching talent. – Ian Cundall

Jake Romanski, Suspended (#52)
The future was looking bright for Romanski after a solid 2016 season at Double-A Portland, as the 25-year-old turned some heads posting a .308/.341/.410 slash line in 90 games for the Sea Dogs and threw out 49 percent of would-be base stealers. Romanski was a 2016 SoxProspects.com All-Star and was named to the Eastern League All-Star Team, positioning himself for at least a share of the playing time in Pawtucket in 2017 and as a potential depth option. But that all came screeching to a halt when Romanski's suspension for 50 games for testing positive for an amphetamine was announced during the offseason. Now out until the end of May, it is unclear where Romanski will fit back into the organization's plans or on the depth chart. Romanski, who is lacks power and profiles to be a defensive-minded game manager of a catcher, could certainly still earn his shot, but his ill-timed suspension—but is there a good time?—cost him significant momentum up the ladder. – Eric Gendron

Jordan Procyshen, Portland (#53)
A 14th-round selection in 2014, Procyshen (pictured, right) continues to work his way up the minor league ladder, earning a non-roster invitation to big league camp this spring to precede an assignment to Portland. He spent the entire 2016 season in Salem after spending the last half of 2015 there and held his own as a 23-year-old, slashing .249/.304/.376 but playing in only 61 games due to hamstring injuries. Offense may never be a huge part of Procyshen’s game, but he has the potential to be a plus defender behind the plate with above-average arm strength. If he can put together a decent season at the plate with the Sea Dogs, he will enter the mix of organizational catching depth and potentially reaching his ceiling as an MLB backup. – Conor Duffy

Austin Rei, Salem, (#54)
Before suffering a season-ending left thumb injury during his junior year at the University of Washington, Rei was hitting .330/.445/.681. Because of the injury-shortened season, he fell to the Red Sox in the third round of the 2015 draft. He debuted that summer with Lowell but struggled mightily, batting .179 with a .579 OPS in 34 games, combined with below-average defense behind the plate—the latter a shock given his billing as perhaps the best all-around college catcher in the draft. Despite those struggles, he still opened the 2016 season in Greenville, where the bat still struggled to come around as he hit .212/.331/.318 in 91 games while striking out in over 26 percent of his at-bats. The reports on his defense were much improved, and he won the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Month in July, but questions remained just how much his thumb had healed, as he still had the digit heavily taped during spring training nearly a year after the injury. If he can bring about a similar turnaround on offense this season—and he is doing his part out of the gate, hitting .343/.425/.629 with a system-leading seven doubles in his first nine games—Rei could rise up the rankings as the potential best all-around catching prospect in the system. – Jim Crowell

System Depth Chart (number in parentheses = SoxProspects.com ranking)

Boston: Leon begins the season as the starter, but Sox would probably be most happy if Vazquez and Swihart play their way into these spots in some kind of playing time share.
Starter: Sandy Leon
"Backup": Christian Vazquez

Pawtucket: Swihart will get as many innings as he can handle as he tries to shore up the defensive half of his game. Butler may have been re-signed because of Romanski's suspension, raising the question of whether Romanski goes here or Portland upon his return.
Starter: Blake Swihart
Backup: Dan Butler
Depth: Tim Roberson

Portland: Both Procyshen and DePew received NRIs, and DePew stuck in camp for longer, although that's mostly based on experience, most likely. They're sharing time evenly in the early going.
Regulars: Jordan Procyshen (#53), Jake DePew
Depth: Danny Bethea

Salem: Rei is off to a hot start. The organization would love if he were to break back out this season and played like the Top 100 draft prospect Baseball America had ranked him as.
Starter: Austin Rei (#54)
Backup: Jhon Nunez

Greenville: Baldwin has gotten time at third base as well in the past, but with the system so thin at the position, expect him to see nearly, if not all, of his time behind the dish going forward. Reynoso is interesting in that he jumped straight from the DSL, but he is also a rare 22-year-old DSL graduate.
Starter: Roldani Baldwin (#45)
Backup: Isaias Lucena
Depth: Eddy Reynoso

Inactive: I'm listing these two separately, rather than with their projected teams, because it's unclear where they'll go when their respective 50-game suspensions end. Romanski could head to either Pawtucket or Portland, and Spoon could go to either Salem or Greenville. It may depend on health and performance of the catchers already at each affiliate. 
Suspended: Jake Romanski (#52), Tyler Spoon

Extended Spring Training: There isn't much here, so expect reinforcements through the draft. Marrero, the 2016 8th-rounder, is interesting as a longshot sleeper.
Projected Lowell: Alan Marrero, Samuel Miranda, Nick Sciortino
Projected GCL: Alberto Schmidt, Carlos Pulido
Projected DSL: Ivan Jimenez, Kleiber Rodriguez, Eduard Conde, Marcos Martinez
Chris Hatfield

Photo credit: Blake Swihart, Roldani Baldwin, Jordan Procyshen by Kelly O'Connor