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The danger of moving on from Blake Swihart

Rob Bradford
May 15, 2018 - 11:14 am

It was an out, but it also was a pretty powerful reminder.

With two outs in the eighth inning Monday night, and the Red Sox trailing the A's by a run, Blake Swihart hit an absolute missile to right field. StatCast registered the 108 mph line-drive as having a 90 percent hit probability (which was 12 percent higher than J.D. Martinez's homer earlier in the inning).

But, alas, Oakland Matt Canha was perfectly positioned, reeling in the inning's final out and leaving Swihart in a state of despair while standing between first and second base.

"When I hit it, it could have been a homer or double, but it had some top-spin on it," Swihart recalled after the Red Sox' 6-5 loss. "I thought it was a homer or double and when he caught it it was disappointing. I could have been on second or been tied. Just got to keep grinding.

"You just try and be aggressive, like the hitter I am. Just stick with the same approach I’ve always had. That last one felt good. I didn’t realize he was playing there."

Swihart went hitless in just his fifth start of the season, having gotten the nod to serve as designated hitter against the guy who no-hit the Red Sox, A's lefty Sean Manaea, the last time they faced off. The switch-hitter is now just 4-for-29 (.138), without any true definition when it comes to his role.

"He gets four at-bats today. Good one in the first one. Then he saw the changeup and wasn’t able to get under it. He hit the last one against (Yusmeiro) Petit, he hit it hard. He competed," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Like I’ve been saying, it’s not an easy spot. You don’t play, and all of a sudden you face one of the best pitchers in the big leagues. He competed, and that’s what we’re asking from him."

The rubber, however, would be seemingly meeting the road pretty soon in regards to Swihart's big league existence.

Dustin Pedroia is slated to return next week, forcing someone off the 25-man roster. Without a disabled list move, there would seem to be two options: 1. Send Brock Holt to the minors (because he has options). This wouldn't seem likely considering how well Holt has been playing; 2. Move on from Swihart.

While Swihart is clearly a square peg in a round hole on this team right now, moments like the eighth inning should offer a glimpse into why the Red Sox should think long and hard about dealing the 26-year-old.

While it's impossible to prove that Swihart can be an above-average major league catcher, there are plenty of signs that point to that path, at least offensively. And if that's the case, it's a presence this organization should clearly value.

The Red Sox are currently prioritizing the defense of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, which is what most big league clubs do when it comes to keeping catchers. The Sox are carrying the third-worst batting average from the catching position in baseball (.178), and worst OPS (.452). While managing the pitchers is undeniably important, so is turning over the lineup to get to Mookie Betts.

And what if one of the two main catchers go down? 

The Red Sox' catching depth isn't comfortable right now, with journeyman Mike Ohlman (7 big league games) and Dan Butler serving as the Triple-A options. The one caveat is that 24-year-old Oscar Hernandez, who has some major league experience with the Diamondbacks, would be considered above average as defensive big league backstop, and is slated to return from his 50-game suspension at the end of the month. But offensively? Hernandez isn't going to be the solution.

The best Red Sox catching prospect is probably 22-year-old Roldani Baldwin, who is currently on the disabled list with a concussion at Single-A Salem.

There aren't any easy answers when it comes to this Swihart situation. But they're going to have to find one any day now.

 

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