7. Blake Swihart
Boston Red Sox Catcher
Turns 25 April 3, 2017
(McAdam) Swihart's major-league career began far sooner than expected. A succession of injuries to the Red Sox' catching corps (torn elbow ligaments for Christian Vazquez, a broken knuckle for Ryan Hanigan) led to Swihart's promotion to Boston on the first weekend of May.
Early on, he was overwhelmed; he hit just .207 for the first six weeks. But with few other options behind the plate, Swihart remained in the lineup and, eventually, began to come around offensively. A sprained foot in early July forced a stint on the disabled list, and when he returned after the All-Star break, his game went to the next level.
Over his final 40 games of the season, Swihart posted a .321/.372/.467 slash line, hinting at his potential as a hitter. Along the way, he earned the respect of the Red Sox pitching staff. Force-fed a lot of information in the beginning, he quickly learned tendencies and absorbed scouting reports to the point where he was comfortable leading a veteran staff. Though he threw out just 24 percent of would-be base- stealers -- slightly below average for the league -- he showed steady gains there.
If there's an area where Swihart still needs work, it's blocking balls in the dirt. But the Red Sox staff is convinced this, too, will come in time, thanks to Swihart's willingness to work at getting better. It's worth noting that he didn't even try catching until more than midway through his high-school career and catchers tend to take longer with their development.
What's unclear is how Swihart fits in the Red Sox' future. With Vazquez expected to successfully return from Tommy John surgery, Swihart may be squeezed out behind the plate. He's too talented -- and too young -- to serve as a backup for long. That could lead to the Sox either trading him elsewhere or having him convert to another position. The latter option, however, seems a longshot, since it would detract from his value as a catcher.
FINAL RATING: Starter