Blake Swihart will join the Diamondbacks starting this Monday in Pittsburgh, and according to Torey Lovullo will see most of his initial time on the outfield corners spelling Adam Jones and David Peralta. Based on earlier comments from Mike Hazen, he might also see some time on the infield corners. All jokes aside, he’s not here to be the 4th catcher. He’s here because Mike Hazen believes he will hit, and provide positional flexibility allowing him to get enough at bats to prove it.
The driving force behind the deal, Hazen said, was a belief in Swihart’s offensive upside and the sense that this could be the club’s only chance to land him.
“We really like his bat and think he has a chance to hit,” Hazen said. “If he ended up in a spot where he got to play every day and did what we felt like he could do with the bat, we wouldn’t have had a chance to acquire him.”
Since then, I have been studying his numbers and trying to read as much about him as I can in an effort to understand and hopefully embrace this belief.
A GOOD START
Swihart was drafted out of High School by the Red Sox in the 1st round of the 2011 draft. It’s notable that Amiel Sawdaye , current Dbacks Sr. VP and Asst GM, was director of scouting for the Red Sox at the time, overseeing the draft.
As a 20 year old in 2012 he played in 92 games in Full Season Class A South Atlantic League. He held his own at the plate, batting .262/.307/.395 .702 OPS in 378 PA, 91 wRC+. While not a great line for a bat first catcher, he was considered young for the level.
Over the next two years, Swihart would start to justify that first round pick. Moving on to Class A+ advanced, he posted a good line of .298/.366/.428. .794 OPS, 121 wRC+ , .130 ISO The slugging and ISO (Isolated Power = Slug- BA) were not very good, but his K% was low and he took his walks, resulting in the good OBP and wRC+.
In 2014 he was even better. Advancing to AA, Eastern League, in 380 PA he posted a line of .300/.353/.487 .840 OPS, 131 wRC+ .187 ISO. He hit 13 HR that year, and it looked like some power was developing along with the batting avg and OBP. That earned him a promotion to AAA, where he had an adjustment period, posting just a 77 wRC+ in 71 PA.
However he made the adjustment quickly in 2015, and got off to a hot start at AAA Pawtucket, batting .338/.392/.382 in 74 PA, and made his major league debut on May 2nd .
He struggled his first two months, and didn’t hit much, and got sent back down. But shortly after the Red Sox needed him , and when he came back, he hit over .300 and over .800 OPS for the rest of the year. During the midst of that hot streak, Torey Lovullo was acting as interim manager for the Red Sox and had a front row seat to the best that Swihart had to offer.
His rookie year ended with a final line of .274/.319/.392. .712 OPS, 90 OPS+ in 84 games, 309 PA. He managed 5 HR, one of which was of the inside the park variety. The power he flashed in AA in 2014 hadn’t shown up much since he got promoted to AAA and the majors, but he outperformed his ZIPS Projection by a fair amount. (.242/284/.370. .654 OPS, 78 OPS+) The Red Sox had to be encouraged by what they say from their young catcher, at least in the batters box.
DEMOTION, INJURY, AND FRUSTRATION
Swihart was the opening day Catcher for the Red Sox in 2016, but quickly gave way to Christian Vazquez, who’s defensive work was much preferred by that organization, and later Sandy Leon, who had a career year in 2016. Optioned to AAA, Blake split his time catching and playing left field. After getting him enough looks in the outfield, he was recalled and began playing left field for Red Sox. It didn’t last long though, as he injured his left ankle and required season ending surgery. Through all of that, it was a lost season as he appeared in only 19 games in the majors, batting .258/.365/.355, .720 OPS , 92 OPS+. in 74 PA. He did not homer.
2017 was much of the same as he struggled with inflammation and altered hitting mechanics due to the injury. In 200+ PA in AAA he hit only .190 with a 47 wRC+ and only got into 6 September games in MLB. He said after the season
“Relearning how to use my body,” Swihart explained. “Leaning on my back foot left-handed (when) injured, I was manipulating my swing and not doing my normal swing. And now that I’m healthy, it’s like I’m relearning my whole swing again.
The ankle was uncomfortable.
”It hurt,” he said. “It felt like I couldn’t use my body the way I wanted. I just didn’t have the mobility. It was hard to walk at times. But now we’ve got it out of there, and I’m ready to move on and just get going with my career and do what I can do.”
Out of options, Swiharts 2018 campaign cannot be considered a comeback however. Splitting his time all around the diamond, he managed to play in 82 games and get 212 PA, but hit just .229/.285/.328. 66 OPS+, homering just 3 times.
Ultimately he was traded to the Diamondbacks who are hoping for a “bounceback” from Swihart to be a steady bat off the bench.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY ?
While Swihart clearly had some promise as a hitter for a catcher I think it’s important to look at his track record in the context of a non catcher position player, because that is his intended use here in Arizona. While his contact rates and K% in the low minors were above average, he never had a double digit walk rate, and most years was below average in taking the base on balls. He did not exhibit much power at all, except the one year in AA, and even that was moderate. Even following his 2015 season, his ZIPS projection heading into 2016 expected only marginal improvement over the 2015 projection, ( 82 OPS+)
Swihart’s 2019 depth chart projection is .226/.293/.338. .631 OPS, 70 wRC+. This is a well below average projection. So we must ask ourselves, what do we see that would cause us to expect him to significantly out perform that projection.
When I look at his Statcast Page I’m not seeing anything there that would indicate he has been unlucky in anyway.
Career wOBA (weighted on base average). .299, vs xwOBA, (expected) .295. League avg wOBA is .318
xwOBA looks at GB, FB, LD and quality of contact among other things to project what kind of results the hitter SHOULD have expected) His career exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrels are all below MLB average.
The other key thing I’m seeing is that it seems he should consider abandoning switch hitting and just focus on batting left handed. It’s hard enough to keep a swing from both sides tuned up when playing every day. Playing part time makes it much harder. And since 2015, Swihart has been abysmal batting right handed both in MLB and AAA
And in the minor leagues:
There are plenty of anecdotal examples of players that were progressing through the early stages of their careers, got derailed by injury and circumstance, and after some time of poor or mediocre performance, managed to get back on track and surprise everyone. Mike Hazen and his team believe Blake Swihart has a good chance to be one of those guys. Obviously I think it’s a long shot. I intentionally have not gotten in to the cost/risk associated with this deal. Whether or not Marcus Wilson makes them regret giving up on him, whether or not they are able to put the 500K International Bonus pool money to good use, are not topics for this inquiry. I simply want to know if Swihart is going to hit up to the expectations that Hazen has expressed for him.
What do you think ? His projection is .226/.293/.338. .631 OPS vs League Avg of :
What do you expect from Blake Swihart
This poll is closed
IHWT: Meet or exceed League Avg
Below Lg Avg, but not terrible
Projection or worse, i.e. Poor