When Blake Swihart turns 21-years-old next April, he will not be living it up like most would. Instead, the 26th overall pick of the 2011 MLB draft will be getting ready to start his second full season of professional baseball, trying to build off of all that he has learned so far.
Shortly after being drafted out of Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Swihart arrived in the Rookie Gulf Coast League where the then 19-year-old knew things would be different right away.
“The minute I arrived at instructs, with all the guys around me, and I saw the guys rehabbing there like Dice-K, I was like, “Whoa,”” said Swihart of his first impressions of pro ball. “I took a big step back right there.”
Swihart would appear in only two games for the GCL Sox, but having that initial introduction to his new career made him hungry and determined to rise up the ladder as quickly as possible.
“I wanted to be able to make a full season team and I just wanted to develop and learn as much as I can,” said Swihart of his goals coming into the 2012 campaign. “I think things are going great, I think I’m developing and learning every day.”
Prior to being sidelined at the beginning of August with a strained hip flexor, Swihart had logged 75 games (55 behind the plate) for the Sox Low Class-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive.
He has had the opportunity to hone his game behind the plate by catching fellow 2011 first-round pitchers Matt Barnes and Henry Owens as well as rehabbing Major Leaguers such as Andrew Miller and Rich Hill.
“When you think baseball and developing relationships you are always going to think pitcher-catcher first,” said Owens, who played with Swihart on Team USA’s U-18 team prior to both being drafted by Boston. “It was good just to know each other before we even came out for our first instructional league in the GCL. We already had a six-month relationship with each other so he already had a feel for how I throw.”
It didn’t take long for Swihart to build a rapport with his other pitchers either, aiding them with his ever-improving game calling ability and defense, throwing out would-be base stealers 31% of the time while maintaining a .986 fielding percentage.
“Every game I’m getting more and more comfortable behind there,” said Swihart who only started catching in his junior year in high school. “It’s going really well and I’m learning my pitchers really well. I’m blocking well, throwing well and everything’s going good so far. They haven’t had me change anything or do anything different than what I’ve been doing.”
Regarding those who choose to run on him, Swihart added, “I think when a base runner does steal on me, I get upset. It’s kind of a “me-versus-him” thing. Sometimes you don’t have a chance, but there’s a bunch of factors that go into it. I try to throw out
every one I can.”
A switch-hitter, Swihart batted .545 during his senior season in high school, adding 27 extra-base hits, a .970 slugging percentage, 41 RBIs, 54 runs and 19 stolen bases.
Some of those numbers have been tough to duplicate right of the gate, but he did come in with some wood-bat experience under his belt and he has improved his approach when stepping into the box.
“For me, at the beginning, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself trying to do too much,” said Swihart who on the season is batting .255 with six home runs and 41 RBIs. “The last couple of months I’ve been relaxed and doing what I know how to do.”
After batting .178 in the opening month of the season, Swihart put up a .282 average over the following three months and was even 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts in July.
“The hardest transition was just knowing that you are going to have 100 more at-bats, besides just this one at-bat,” said Swihart of what he learned from his early struggles. “If for one at-bat you don’t have a quality appearance, you know that you can make up for it.”
If he can build on his 6’1”, 175 pound frame and continue to show improved patience at the plate, then he has the potential to develop a big-league ready bat. The defense is already on its way.
There has been no time frame given for Swihart’s return from his current injury, although he is not expected to miss too much time. But you can bet that the 20-year-old will still learn something just by observing.
There is much hope that Swihart is the future of the catching position for the Boston Red Sox. For now, he is just a 20-year-old learning the game, and growing with it each day.
Craig Forde can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter @BeyondFenway.
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