- Rating: 2.63
- Age: 27
- 2019 stats (AZ only): 31 G, 70 PA, .136/.186/.273 = .458 OPS, -0.9 bWAR
- 2019 salary: $910,000
- 2020 status: Free agent
A first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Swihart was once among the best-regarded prospects in the game. After hitting .293 with 14 home-runs as a 22-year-old, he was listed in the top 20 prospects across all baseball before the 2015 season by multiple sources, and was the top catcher, “reminding many of a young Buster Posey.” Another report at that time said Swihart had “face-of-the-franchise potential” and “the makings of a potential star.” He made his MLB debut that year, but never lived up to the hype. Over his first four seasons, he posted an OPS+ of 82 and was worth just 0.3 bWAR in 191 games. But he did accumulate enough service time to become a Super Two, entering arbitration for the first time last winter.
Swihart made the Opening Day roster for the Sox, beating out veteran Sandy Leon, but was designated for assignment in favor of Leon, less than three weeks into the season. The Arizona front-office was likely familiar with Swihart; assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye was Boston’s Vice President of Amateur and International Scouting during the draft in which the player was selected. This may have played into Arizona being interested enough to figure out a deal for him, rather than relying on a waiver claim. On April 19, Swihart was sent to the Diamondbacks, along with $500,000 in international bonus money, in exchange for outfield prospect Marcus Wilson.
Initially, the joke was that, rather the “All the shortstops,” Mike Hazen was intent on acquiring all the catchers. However, the team said they would instead use the player to spell David Peralta and Adam Jones. Said Torey Lovullo, “We have three really good catchers here right now, so we’re going to stand pat with those three that we have. Blake’s versatility is going to come up in a big way for us in other ways right now. We’re going to look at him as a corner outfielder at this point in time and give him the opportunity to get his feet on the ground, then get some work done with David McKay and then transition over to Tony Perezchica, maybe get some ground balls at first and third base.”
While Swihart had primarily been a catcher, he did have 24 starts in the outfield for the Red Sox, so this wasn’t entirely unprecedented. It also reflected a situation in Boston where, “Over and over again, somebody believed he could catch. And every time, others believed it wasn’t working.” Here, the belief was firmly on the side of “not”. The man once touted as a potential successor to St. Buster of the Flowers, never caught a single inning as a D-back, making five starts in left and six in right. But after getting an RBI single in his first trip to the plate as a Diamondback, it was almost all downhill for Swihart. Though he did have an inside the park home-run, below, despite running through Perezchica’s stop sign.
An oblique strain forced him onto the injured list at the start of June, though to that point he had gone just 9-for-64 for Arizona, with 27 strikeouts to only four walks. He missed all of June and July, but returned from the sixty-day IL on August 7th, taking Greg Holland’s spot on both 25- and 40-man rosters. Weirdly, however, this comeback lasted just a couple of days, Blake making one appearance off the bench. Was there some kind of incident? We’ll never know. But on August 12th, Swihart was himself designated for assignment, in favor of Arizona native Josh Rojas. He cleared waivers, and accepted an assignment to Reno, which let the player continue to earn his Super Two salary.
Having been removed from the 40-man roster, and possessing more than three years in service time, Swihart had the right to exercise free agency at the end of the season. He chose to do so, and is therefore able to sign for whoever he wants. [Others who did the same kind of thing included former D-backs Oscar Hernandez and Peter O’Brien] I’m presuming it’s not going to be the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not that we would necessarily want him. Swihart’s .458 OPS ranks third-worst all time among D-backs position players with as many PA, ahead of Deven Marrero and Jerry Gil. Though neither of those had a K-rate in excess of 40%, like Swihart achieved for Arizona.
Similarly, this move definitely counts as a swing and a miss by Hazen, something which I must say have been pleasantly rare so far. The logic behind his acquisition was hazy at the time, and the almost complete lack of production from Swihart did nothing to dispel the sense of “Eh?” which followed his arrival. Meanhile, Wilson put up an .850 OPS between High-A and Double-A this year, as a 22-year-old. If he ever develops into anything much, I am going to be considerably more annoyed.