EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 1, 2013

Blake Swihart a fast learner at catcher and switch-hitter

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — During the summer before his junior year of high school, Red Sox prospect catcher Blake Swihart had a baseball coach tell him more doors would open if he became a switch hitter.

“And he said, ‘once you start catching after that, more doors will open,” Swihart recalled.

He heeded the coach’s advice. The 21-year-old was named 2013 Red Sox minor league Defensive Player of the Year, an award that has to be quite satisfying for him considering the short time he has spent at catcher.

Swihart is one of three high-ceiling Boston prospect catchers along with Christian Vazquez and Jon Denney and is expected to begin the 2014 season in Double-A Portland.

Both Swihart and Vazquez, who is expected to begin ‘14 at Triple-A Pawtucket, are getting closer to the majors and are the two main reasons the Red Sox are better off finding a one- or two-year stopgap at catcher rather than signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three- or four-year contract.

Swihart was listed as the No. 1 catcher in the 2011 draft by Baseball America, and he received the richest bonus Theo Epstein ever gave a high school draft pick while GM of the Red Sox.

A natural right-handed batter, Swihart seems to be quite the quick learner from left side of the plate and at catcher.

Swihart began switch hitting almost right after it was suggested.

He caught for the first time at the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase at Tropicana Field. A high school center fielder and shortstop, he then caught two games as a senior because scouts were eager to see him behind the plate.

“I didn’t even have catching gear,” Swihart said about his experience at the Perfect Game Showcase. “One of the coaches said, ‘Hey, put on this catching gear and go throw to second base.’”

Like Vazquez, Swihart has a strong arm. He threw out 42 percent of base stealers for Single-A Salem in ‘13. The organization has had him work with former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek to improve his overall defense.

“One thing I really like about it, you’re in every play,” Swihart said. “You’re calling the pitches. You’re in control of the game. You’re also the coach outside the dugout.”

Meanwhile, he batted .298 with a .366 on-base percentage and 38 extra-base hits this past season. He is better from the right side (.367 batting average, .419 on-base percentage, .519 slugging percentage). But his numbers weren’t too shabby from the left side either (.279/.352/.404).

“Right-handed I can make more mistakes and correct them in the middle of my swing than I can lefty just because I’ve been doing it longer,” he said. “But some days my lefty swing feels like I won’t miss a ball. I really feel comfortable both ways.”

A year after he began switch-hitting, Swihart’s scouting report on the Perfect Game website stated: “He took one of the best batting-practice sessions from the right side seen all summer by the PG scouting staff, then proceeded to hit lefthanded in a game later that day, and lined two solid hits off pitchers throwing in the 92-94 mph range. Swihart has more natural raw power from the right side, but has above-average bat speed from both sides and an uncanny ability to square up balls consistently.”

Swihart took a week off after the ‘13 season, then began his prep work for 2014. He is training at Elevate PHW in Albuquerque, N.M. When he was drafted, he weighed 164 pounds. He ended this past season at 184 and now is up to 197 pounds.

“My trainer puts me through the (Red Sox) workouts and he makes me eat,” Swhart said. “I don’t really stop eating. I’m still flexible. I’m keeping that flexibility I have. I’m getting a lot stronger.”

Sox interested in Furcal

Free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal told ESPNDeportes.com that the Red Sox are one of several teams interested in him.

The 36-year-old played in 121 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, batting .264 with a .325 on-base percentage.

He did not play at all in 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. He is expected to be ready for spring training.

For his career, Furcal is a .281 hitter with a .346 on-base percentage, .403 slugging percentage and .749 OPS.

The Red Sox should sign a reliable, right-side infielder such as Furcal or Stephen Drew because of the uncertainty of which Will Middlebrooks will show up in 2014.

Will it be the Middlebrooks we saw his rookie season in 2012 when he batted .288/.325/.509/.835 in 286 plate appearances or will it be sophomore Middlebrooks .227/.271/.425/.696 in 374 plate appearances in ‘13)?

Ortiz’s beard

The trimmings of the beard David Ortiz sported during the 2013 playoffs and World Series and the Gillette razor used to shave it off were auctioned on eBay.com for $10,877.77 yesterday.

There were four bids of more than $10,000 and 10 bids of more than $9,000.

The money will go to Movember, a charity for men’s health.

How about this?

It has to be nice to be a baseball player. Free agent and former Yankees righty Phil Hughes has a career 4.54 ERA and posted 5.19 ERA in ‘13 but has agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the Twins, according to the Associated Press.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB