It’s really hard to complain about this start of the Red Sox season, and beyond Xander Bogaerts’ potential ankle injury you kind of have to go out of your way to find faults. I want to be clear that what follows is not a complaint about how things have played out, but rather an observation and a situation about which I am mildly surprised and curious. Alex Cora has clearly prioritized getting rest for regulars and it is apparent that this will be a strategy to be employed all year. Every regular besides Bogaerts has had at least one day off, and players have been rotated in and out of the lineup on a daily basis. That is, seemingly everyone besides Blake Swihart, who has gotten the short end of the playing time stick at the outset of 2018.
It’s a pretty stark contrast from where we were just a few weeks ago, when Swihart was perhaps the biggest story and most discussed player on the roster. Obviously, a hot spring and great first impression in front of the new coaching staff wasn’t going to catapult him into everyday status or anything, but considering that he had locked up a roster spot before Brock Holt (and Deven Marrero) it seemed reasonable to expect he’d at least get a couple of starts during this early stretch against subpar competition. Instead, he’s gotten just one start and his biggest role has been as a late-game replacement as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.
With all of that being said, it makes sense that Swihart would have to earn playing time over some other guys even given the excitement around the young catcher coming out of camp. For as much talent as he has and the prospect pedigree over the other bench players on the Red Sox, he doesn’t really have a major-league track record. Obviously, that’s not really his fault as he has been set back by multiple injuries in recent years, but that time lost matters regardless of who’s at fault. Furthermore, this is a Red Sox team that is looking for versatility, and while Swihart worked all around the field this spring the team probably isn’t quite as confidence in his defense moving around the diamond as it is with someone like Holt.
Whether it’s really surprising or not, the key point here is that we’re only nine games in and playing time concerns at this point in the year really aren’t anything to worry about. with Swihart, though, it’s an interesting data point because as you look at things a little closer it’s not entirely clear where his playing time coming up will come from. The best path is probably behind the plate, but it seems the Red Sox want Christian Vazquez back there most nights and Sandy Leon still has the trust of the backup catcher job. That’s not a lot of time left over for Swihart. His one start in 2018 came at DH, but that’s obviously J.D. Martinez’ spot — and his recent defensive showings in the outfield may mean he’ll get more time there than he was already slated for. When Martinez is in the outfield, it’s generally been used as a way to get Mitch Moreland his playing time, putting Hanley Ramirez in the DH spot and Moreland at first base. It’s understandable and reasonable to focus more on Moreland’s playing time than that of Swihart.
The two places Swihart could see a little more time than expected is third base and left field. The former could come if Bogaerts’ injury is serious, as Nuñez would then be more occupied in the middle infield and Swihart could act as Rafael Devers’ backup. Left field could be presented as a larger opportunity if the team still wants to give days off to the everyday outfielders while preventing Martinez from playing the field more often. Of course, it’s not as if Swihart is a proven stud with the glove in the outfield, either. There’s also some question about whether he could possibly fill in at second base wen Nuñez is at shortstop, and while I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand it’s worth noting that he never actually got any playing time there in spring training.
Ultimately, as I said at the top, this isn’t really a concern as much as it is a curiosity and something to watch moving forward. Swihart was such a massive part of the conversation throughout spring, and he’s been almost completely absent to start the regular season. Playing time nine games in is never something to worry about, but the utility man doesn’t have many clear paths to the field. This surely won’t be Alex Cora’s primary focus as the season continues, but how, where and how often Swihart gets into the lineup as the year moves on will be something I’ll be watching fairly closely.