The votes are in, and Blake Swihart is, to nobody's great surprise, the top prospect in the system.
It's hard to believe it's been three years since we spent two months worrying over whether or not Swihart would even sign with the team. The second of Boston's two first round draft picks that year, the Texas commit fell to the Red Sox at 26 due to high bonus demands, decided not to attend the annual draftees game at Fenway Park, and only signed on at the last minute for $2.5 million--better than double the recommended slot bonus for the 26th pick.
The early returns for Swihart were not entirely promising. His first full year saw the catcher hit just .262/.307/.395 in Single-A Greenville. But catchers have a lot on their plate, and despite being faced with harder competition in 2013, Swihart enjoyed something of a breakout season in High-A Salem, hitting .298/.366/.428 and earning himself a spot in Portland for 2014.
Given that he's taken first place, this past season obviously went fairly well. And it did, it was just...well, it was strange. Swihart showed new power, hitting 12 homers in 347 at bats with Portland and logging a career-high .487 slugging percentage. he also bumped his contact rate up a bit, hitting .300 for the first time, and even threw in a 7-for-8 record in stolen bases.
The strange part is how he did it, starting the season red hot, but seemingly forgetting the improved patience he showed in 2013, almost completely forsaking the base on balls. Eventually, though, the balls stopped dropping, and his numbers started dipping, leading to probably the most impressive month of his season in June, when Shiwart seemed to reset, hitting .303/.379/.506 in 89 at bats and displaying a much more balanced approach at the plate, ultimately earning himself his first in-season promotion come September. His brief stint in Pawtucket did not go nearly so well, but that's to be expected of a 22-year-old catcher getting his first taste of Triple-A.
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Throughout it all, Swihart's defense has only been improving. While initially there was some thought that Swihart might transition to the outfield shortly after or even before reaching the majors, that idea now seems downright silly. This isn't a Ryan Lavarnway puff campaign to make a designated hitter seem at least tenable behind the plate, this is...Well, long story short:
Blake Swihart named minor league defensive catcher of the year by @baseballamerica http://t.co/JUWYlmVoz0— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 21, 2014
Awards aside, Swihart is probably not Christian Vazquez behind the plate because very, very few players are. But Swihart is a catcher drafted for his bat whose defense has progressed by leaps and bounds. It's been a long time since the Red Sox have had that total package behind the plate--not since Jason Varitek in his prime. Hopefully Swihart will be filling that role for quite a long time to come.
So the obvious choice has been made for the top spot, but things get a little more interesting from here. Who will take second in our top-20?