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Tuesday Flyby - Three Little Catchers

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The Red Sox have three catchers, by name at least. The truth is a lot more complicated.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays
Swihart and Vazquez may one day be the two catchers. They may not be.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

This past Friday I asked you to dive into a potential log jam on the Red Sox roster behind the plate. No, I wasn’t asking who deserved to start — the answer to that question would be simple as Christian Vazquez has without a doubt earned that role and was recently extended to boot.

Rather, I wanted to know if you would make any moves involving any of the three catchers on the roster. By name, Blake Swihart is sort of a catcher, but is turning into a utility player who also happens to play catcher. In 2018, Swihart has played in 6 games (but only received 10 plate appearances as he’s generally come in late in the game), and he hasn’t gotten any time behind the plate. Instead, he’s slotted in twice at first base, twice at DH, and once in left field. In one game, he appeared as a pinch hitter, and was substituted out of the game defensively before recorded an out (because he pinch hit for Brian Johnson in an NL game).

So, I was curious to see if OTMers had any creative solutions to what I was perceiving to be a bigger issue, mostly regarding Blake Swihart’s exact role with the club. We received one response this time around.


Caught Up in the Hype - gosawks

Obviously, gosawks notes that Vazquez is the primary catcher and of course nobody will dispute this. He points out that Sandy Leon has lost ground with the club, and that he’s perceived to be the odd man out, but that Chris Sale likes him (Chris Sale has only thrown to Vazquez this year, for what it’s worth). He also has a funny nickname for Blake Swihart, one that is pretty accurate. The solution gosawks lays out is one of patience, more or less. Neither Swihart or Leon makes it through waivers, and neither has a load of trade value right now. He’d ideally move Leon, but admits there isn’t any likely move out there right now.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Sandy Leon appears to be Rick Porcello’s personal catcher, and is here for the long haul. If that’s the case, he hopefully starts hitting the ball with more authority, and soon.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One thing I noticed while I was doing research for this article was that Sandy Leon has sort of morphed into being solely Rick Porcello’s personal catcher. Leon has appeared in six games this season and started four. In those four games, he’s caught Hector Velazquez once, and Rick Porcello three times.

Last season he caught Porcello as well, but this may have flown a bit under the radar as being Sale’s personal catcher brought more headlines. With Sale now using Vazquez, there’s more attention on Leon being the personal catcher of Rick Porcello. To his credit, in the early going, that pair seems to be working well.

It’s established a clear hierarchy in the catching roles that might not have been as apparent at a single glance. Vazquez is the primary catcher, which is not new information. Leon is Porcello’s personal catcher, and someone who will play when Christian Vazquez needs a day off it’s hard to see a change unless the Porcello/Leon combination starts to suffer,. This leaves Swihart as the odd man out, not Leon.


The question is, what does Blake Swihart do from here, as a player that’s been hindered somewhat developmentally and now has limited trade value? Up until now, he’s logged games at first base, left field, and designated hitter, incidentally, the three roles that have the least overall defensive value on the diamond. He’s yet to see action at second base, a position of need for the Red Sox at present, although Eduardo Nunez and Tzu-Wei Lin have done a good job of holding down the fort, or any other positions.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
Tzu-Wei Lin has been a lot of fun to watch, early, and has seemingly leapfrogged Swihart for all of the scheduled off days for infielders for the time being.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Even in this quasi-utility role that he’s been put into, he’s not the top guy on the depth chart, as he lacks the positional experience that gives a utility player their value. He’s not the top guy to take over at second base or shortstop — Lin has that covered in the interim. He’s not going to be playing as much outfield with three great defensive outfielders and the great bat of J.D. Martinez to contend with. Even in the case where Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, or Jackie Bradley Jr need a day off, the early goings have shown that J.D. is more likely to play the outfield than Swihart, with Hanley Ramirez moving to DH and Swihart taking over at first base, or vice versa. And that’s if Mitch Moreland doesn’t play.

I would posit that this seems to take the very idea of Swihart truly being a utility player out of the equation. He doesn’t play any positions except for catcher, first base, and left field. All three positions have multiple players ahead of him on the depth chart, leaving Swihart in a state of flux, where he needs to be tested but can’t get any way to take a test.

The season is still young and there’s plenty of time to get Swihart reps around the diamond. There hasn’t been much change, because there hasn’t been much need of change. Why fix what isn’t broken? The Red Sox are 13-2, and haven’t shown much sign of slowing down. If the team loses games, and injuries occur, Swihart will get his chance to shine, and play more.

It’s worth noting that according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, that Swihart was learning more about second base from Dustin Pedroia earlier in the week, which could be a sign of things to come in the future.

He states in a later tweet, that Swihart said it was the first time he had ever played at the position at all. Remarkably, second base is the only position he has never played. Professionally, he’s only played first base, catcher, and left field, but in high school he was primarily a shortstop who had seen time at third base and the other outfield positions. He also pitched (and he once threw 98 mph supposedly).

Factoring in all the information gathered, it’s probably safe to assume that Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are the two top catchers on the staff, with Blake Swihart being the “break glass in case of emergency” option that plays other positions on the field. While this might be an uncomfortable and frustrating experience that leads to sporadic playing time across the diamond, it’s nice to finally be able to say that Blake Swihart is a true major-league baseball player for the first time since 2015.

The playing time will come. And so will the hits. But so long as he is in Boston, there’s no guarantee he’ll get behind the plate in 2018. It seems that’s just how the Red Sox like it.