For someone who’s pulled off some mega blockbuster trades in his professional career, Dave Dombrowski certainly doesn’t seem interested in trading away any of the Sox young talent. Or, at least, he isn’t tipping his hand.
Jackie Bradley for Yasiel Puig? Refuted by Dave. A package for Stanton headlined by Benintendi or Bogey? Thanks but no thanks, Mr. Jeter. Teams calling on Blake Swihart? Too bad.
Stories have surfaced this week via Ken Rosenthal’s megaphone, The Athletic, that clubs are calling on Swihart. The case could certainly be made to send the 25 year old jack-of-some-trades packing, if the return was attractive enough. Can you blame the rest of the league for inquiring? Boston has a solid pairing behind the dish in Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, plus Swihart will turn 26 on the 3rd of April, just six days into the regular season. With a power problem, competition for the 5th spot in the rotation, and a questionable bullpen behind Craig Kimbrel, Boston absolutely has holes to fill. But, that’s no reason to move on from a player of Swi’s caliber, as one can’t help but to be intrigued by what he could do if given 500 plate appearances.
Could Blake be a constant contributor as early as this April? Leon’s 2016 was as aberrational as Porcello’s. He came down to Earth in 2017, but luckily Vazzy stepped up big time with an OPS over .800 in the second half. Now, what if the same were to happen to Vazquez in ’18? It’s easy to look at his numbers, multiply them by the assumed amount of at bats he’ll garner next year, and think he’s good to be penciled in for 15 HR & 65 RBI. But it’s not that cut and dry, as pitchers can easily make adjustments to alter his approach – that could lead to a lengthy skid. With Blake on the bench, although still unproven, he could possess the best bat out of all three backstops, which would come in handy.
Depth wise, Boston doesn’t have much of it at the catcher position. Per FanRag Sports, the Sox did make a minor addition to the ball club last night. Oscar Hernandez agreed to a contract, presumedly of the minor league variety, coming over from Arizona. He went 2-11 at the plate last season, and will add some defensive depth at the position. No minor leaguer outside of A-ball hit over .250 last year. To boot, their top prospect at the position, Austin Rei, is 23 and finished last year with Boston’s high A affiliate. So unless you’re enamored with Dan Butler or Tim Roberson logging reps with the big boys in ’18, I’d suggest keeping Blake around.
Incidentally, that’s almost a guarantee. Blake’s out of options, and DD wants him on the 25-man. Which isn’t just as insurance for Vazquez and Leon, but also because Swihart can hold down a utility role. He’s seen time in the outfield as well as on the diamond, and you can never have too much depth. Pedroia, JBJ, Ramirez, and Holt all missed significant time last year, forcing the Sox to start sluggin’ Steve Selsky early on when a flu bug circulated amongst the clubhouse. Later on, the third base position became so dilapidated that the front office was desperate enough to sign Jhonny Peralta following his June release from the Cardinals.
With all the moving parts that a 162 game schedule entails, you don’t necessarily have to have a defined role for each and every player at season’s start. See: David Ortiz, 2004. Or to a lesser extent, Adam Lind with the Nationals last year. When Jayson Werth missed significant time, Lind filled in admirably and finished ’17 with 301 plate appearances and an OPS approaching .900.
Look, the Sox haven’t made a splash in the free agent market yet. But Boston has an interesting dynamic occurring thus far. Tim Hyers has come on board, where he plans on instituting a specific game plan: swing early, lift the ball. In addition to the new hitting coach, the Sox bench is going to have a full season of Bryce Brentz, last year’s International League leader in dingers. They moved with extreme haste to get Mexican Leaguer Esteban Quiroz (owner of a .917 OPS in ’17) signed as an international free agent, knowing the money they spent on him would restrict them from making a strong bid for Shohei Ohtani. And although Brock Holt was plagued by a concussion and vertigo in 2017, he holds a career average of .295 in the first half.
With the prospect of Blake Swihart spending all of 2018 with the big club, what can fans expect from the former 26th overall pick?
Hit: Fluid, line-drive stroke from both sides. Plus bat speed and bat control through the zone with loud, consistent contact. Uses whole field. Solid pitch recognition, hand-eye coordination, and understanding of the strike zone. Future plus hit tool (.275-.285 average). Battles. Doesn’t use batting gloves.
Power: Strong. More to come as he physically matures. Squares balls up with consistency. Doesn’t sell out for power. Plus bat speed, raw strength and hand-eye coordination to square balls up consistently will translate to future average power potential (15-20 home runs).
If you remember, Swihart was pretty wiry in ’15 when he was getting consistent playing time. Now listed at 200 pounds, he’s not exactly making the strides Beni Biceps made last offseason, but is filling out nonetheless. His confidence and solid approach at the plate led to an authoritative contribution in this year’s Dominican Baseball League season for Blake, culminating in a .996 OPS.
The talent is there, but the playing time isn’t, yet. It’ll be up to Swihart to take advantage of his at bats, and force himself into the lineup on a regular basis.