Spring Training is around the corner for the Red Sox, but what should they do with their youngest option behind the plate?
One of the more interesting questions going into the 2018 Red Sox season was how Blake Swihart was going to be used. Swihart was out of Minor League options, so he either needed to make the Opening Day roster, or pack his bags. Our lord and savior, Alex Cora, decided to give Blake a roster spot, and Blake spent the entire 2018 season on the MLB team. The question was never really answered in 2018, so now, in the offseason leading up to 2019, it’s time to ask it again.
The Red Sox are in a predicament that many teams across Major League Baseball would love to be in. Carrying two good catchers is something many teams struggle with, and an argument can be made that the Red Sox platooned 3 catchers on the 2018 MLB roster that could vie for a larger role elsewhere in Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Blake Swihart. All three players appeared in approximately 80 games this year, with Swihart playing 28 behind the dish.
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Looking at the numbers, the three players are not separated by much, but there are clear winners in the offensive and defensive categories. All of them had comparable numbers swinging the bat, with no one above a .228 batting average (Swihart wins this battle). Blake has the clear upside as a switch hitter who has shown, at times in the past, he can swing with power. Vazquez is nothing special swinging the bat, but he looked like a different player at the plate this postseason, and it was as surprising as it was fun to watch. I hope he can keep that momentum through the offseason and improve on his mediocre numbers from 2018. Sandy Leon, however, was literally one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2018, slashing just .177/.232/.279, so I guess it’s only up from here? Defensively, looking just at the Catcher position, Sandy Leon appears to be the clear favorite with 12 Defensive Runs Saved(DRS). Vazquez came in at 0 DRS, with Swihart at a -1 DRS when wearing the gear.
The Sox decided to roster all for all three rounds of the playoffs, where Swihart did not start a single game, and had only 3 Plate Appearances. While having Swihart on the roster was a nice insurance policy, he saw only 4 innings in the field during the 14 postseason games. We won the World Series with practically a 24 man roster, and while that’s impressive in its own right, Swihart’s spot could’ve gone to another lefty relief pitcher like Brian Johnson.
What to do with Swihart?
I think it goes without saying that the Sox should plan to carry only 2 catchers for the 2019 season; however Cora reiterated that fact a couple of weeks ago. There is a gross need for a plus-defender at Third Base, and while Swihart played there this season (only 3 appearances), I don’t think he’s the insurance policy we need at the hot corner. The extra roster spot could also go to improving the bullpen that struggled at times along the stretch. It’s time to cut the losses and figure out which catcher needs to move on from Boston. Christian Vazquez is probably the best all-around player of the three and he played most of the postseason with 10 starts. His job is pretty well set in stone for 2019. That leaves us with deciding between the defense from Sandy Leon and offensive upside with Blake Swihart.
As long as Chris Sale is in our rotation, I think we need to hold onto Sandy Leon. The two are very outspoken on the chemistry they have together, and Sale prefers to have Leon catching his pitches. Anything for you, Mr. Conductor! Sandy is the best defensive catcher on this team, and as we all know, that is the most important thing when it comes to playing the position at the highest level. The Sox still had the best offense in the Majors even with Leon’s horrific numbers at the plate, so one can argue that he really is not holding the offense back as much as the numbers might lead you to believe.
Personally, I’ve been a big Swihart fan since he was a top prospect in the system. His upside as a player is something that simply cannot be ignored. I just think he has been misused in the organization by being held down in the minors for as long as he was and not getting a fair share of appearances behind the plate. I don’t think he was given the time to mature into a true Big-Leaguer.
It certainly doesn’t help that the Red Sox never gave him a true position, playing him at 6 positions (including DH) this season. Getting a chance on another team may help him become a field-able backstop and he has a pretty significant Trade Value in the Catcher’s market as a 26 year old with MLB experience. It’s time to cut the ties, and package Swihart in a trade for some draft picks to rebuild the weakened Farm System, an insurance policy for the black hole that is Third Base, or a back-end relief pitcher that is desperately needed with the departure of Joe Kelly and the potential loss of Craig Kimbrel.