The Nationals and free-agent catcher/outfielder Blake Swihart agreed to a minor league deal, as first reported by Talk Nats (on Twitter). Swihart, an O’Connell Sports Management client, will be invited to Major League Spring Training. MLBTR has confirmed the agreement between the two sides.
Soon to turn 29, Swihart once ranked as one of the game’s elite prospects. Baseball America, MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus and other outlets all ranked him inside the game’s 20 best prospects back in 2015, but Swihart never really got a full-time audition with the Red Sox and has yet to find his footing in the big leagues. That’s in part due to a string of foot and ankle injuries that interrupted his early career but also due to some questions about his ability to handle the catcher position from a defensive standpoint.
Swihart has appeared in 234 big league games and tallied 696 plate appearances, but the result is a lackluster .243/.301/.355 batting line that falls well shy of expectations for a prospect whose offensive potential was once so heralded. While catcher has been his most frequent position in the Majors (964 innings), Swihart has seen more time in left field and at first base over the past few seasons than he has behind the plate.
Swihart didn’t play in the big leagues last year after opening the season in the Rangers organization. He was part of the 60-man player pool in Texas for the season’s first month but was eventually cut loose a few days prior to the Aug. 31 trade deadline.
The Nats likely view Swihart as an option to compete for a backup catcher and reserve outfield role off the bench. Yan Gomes is slated to be Washington’s everyday catcher, with Tres Barrera standing as the lone backup option on the 40-man roster. Welington Castillo returns once again as a non-roster invitee, and 27-year-old Raudy Read has gotten a pair of brief looks in the big leagues with the Nats as well (though he’s since been removed from the 40-man roster).
the signing we were waiting for
Clearly the contingency plan for missing on Realmuto
Why insult the player? You are such a small man.
Yeah! How dare he mention Realmuto in the same sentence as HOF lock Blake Swihart.
It’s a light-hearted joke with a bit of history on MLBTR. Red Sox fans hyped Swihart as a prospect so that he became known in the MLBTR comments section, facetiously, as a “lock for the HOF.” We’re not making fun of Swihart so much as we are having fun somewhat at the expense of the Sox fans who hyped him. (Same thing with Rob Refsynder and Yankee fans.)
Wait, you’re saying that Sox fans hyped him? The article literally states that he was a top 20 prospect on three sites.
Except that Swihart was a legit prospect with major promise and was consistently ascending in his career until he was jerked around after his rookie season and then got badly injured playing out of position in the OF. He was never the same after that.
You for real?
FredMcGriff for the HOF
As meh as Swihart’s professional career has been to this point he won a World Series ring fair and square. I’m not saying he did much to get it but some players go their entire MLB career and not even sniffing the World Series as a participant.
Shoot…delays his HOF vote for another year!
In an alternative timeline, Swihart and Refsnyder are MLB All-Stars.
Alternative timeline? Are you saying that Swihart and Refsnyder aren’t MLB All-Stars in this timeline? Clearly, they’re on a HOF trajectory.
Matt Dominguez, Travis Snider, etc….
YAY NATS HAVE TOP CATCHER NOW
Back-up catchers never get a shortage of job offers.
Bearded Texas Hulk
The GOAT has finally signed!!! I cant give this guy enough RAVE reviews.
Happy for Blake, Red Sox messed him up. He was positioned ahead of Vazquez for #1 catcher until they screwed with him then he got hurt.
Yes, he and Bard, to name a couple of them. There are more. But in fairness the Red Sox have also rescued quite a few pitching careers.
Yes, he and Bard, to name a couple of them.
It’s questionable whether or not they messed up Bard. They started him in 2012, and that blew up. But he had lost it in September, 2011. It was an odd year. He allowed 4 runs on opening day. Then had a 1.47 thru the end of August. But in September, he had a 10.64 ERA with an 11/9 K/W. And went from 10% inherited runners scored, to 40%.
Actually, the injuries started before they started moving him around. And the questions about his viability as a catcher were abundant even before he cracked the bigs.
It’s difficult to say the Red Sox messed him up when just about every other young position player at the time found such success, such as Mookie, Xander and JBJ, despite each of them moving positions (Mookie from 2b, X to 3b and back, JBJ moving along all three OF spots).
Actually, his health was just fine until Boston sent him down to AAA to force Vazquez ahead of him and then moved him to LF temporarily to try to fix a gaping hole there on the MLB team. He suffered a very bad injury on a play in the OF and that was the start of the end for him.
The questions about his viability as a catcher were diminishing with each year as he made progress behind the plate, and nobody had any major issues with him during his MLB debut. Only when the team needed to magically justify playing Vazquez over him did his defense suddenly become a “problem” again. He wasn’t a plus behind the plate at the time or anything, but he was fine for a hit-first catcher.
it is a real shame he got injured. I feel he would have been a very good player if not for them.
I’m curious as to how the RS screwed him up? He was a good prospect, but only for as long as developed into a catcher. But if he wasn’t going to catch, his hitting stats were pretty mediocre. I usually go by AA stats. He had a 12 HRs in 347 ABs, with a 65/29 K/W. As a catcher, that’s pretty decent. But he was going to be relegated to LF, that’s a little weak.
Eh, I’m not so sure about that. The guy never really learned the catcher position and pitchers didn’t like throwing to him. Decent utility guy though.
That’s a Swihart of a deal!
World Series favorites
I hope he finally does well. He has talent.
He’s done a superb job of hiding it.
Really a pan flash of a prospect. Went from anonymity to a top prospects from one big minor league season. There was never any power or defensive talent – he was at best going to be a high OBP/low slugging hitter who moonlighted at 1b and DH
If you aren’t going to know the actual story, best to say nothing rather than spread misinformation.
Swihart was a high school catching prospect, and no baseball prospect has a longer developmental path to walk. He was a first round pick (anonymity?) with a clear quality hit tool, power potential, and questions behind the plate. He made a successful lower-A debut at age 20, then took big hitting strides in high-A in his second year, and then at just age 22 he broke out further at AA while adding power to his stroke. All right on schedule, including gradual progress defensively that by the end of the above period (2014) it was no longer a question of whether he could stick as an everyday catcher but rather whether he could become a bit of a plus or only “acceptable” defensively.
After struggling to get on base in his AAA debut in 2014, Swihart focused on his approach at the plate and was continuing to progress very well (.311 BA and .363 OBP, trading off power to do so) in preparation for a true MLB debut in 2016…before injuries at the position in Boston created the need for an emergency, premature callup. Swihart was totally in over his head for a grand total of two weeks, and then asserted quality MLB hitting for the rest of his rookie season from there.
Recap; Swihart progressed exactly as hoped over four straight professional seasons, culminating in a successful MLB debut before he was fully ready to be called up, just four seasons out of high school. It’s insane to look at that profile and see a “pan flash”, if one is being honest. Unfortunately, the team then buried him in the minors to force room to play Christian Vazquez, then moved him to LF because the GM had made a giant hole there and got him badly hurt with an injury that affected him for at least two more years. He was never the same, because the team screwed up with him.
Blake is that you?
Now the stove is on full blast. He’s America’s Swihart.
Not sure why the Astros didn’t take a flier on him over Jason Castro. He’s cheaper and can also play OF, another need for the Astros. He’s also a better hitter than Castro and his sub .200 abilities.
Swihart can’t catch and Castro can. Both are sub par with the bat.
Oh come on. Swihart’s better behind the plate than Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz.
True, but Swihart hits better than Castro and both are only back-up options at catcher anyways. Maldanado will gets the majority of the playing time. It’s a moot point anyways, it’s just annoying that the Astros grossly overpaid Castro.
Until we know where Refsnyder and Pete O’Brien are landing this clearly makes the Nats the team to beat
Refsnyder went to Minnesota
To state it correctly, Minnesota went to Refsnyder…missed that one lol
Pete O’Brien’s defense does not receive rave reviews.
Totally fair. That ankle injury came at a pretty bad time. He finally seemed comfortable at the plate and was taking good swings. That said, at best all he ever showed was doubles power and a weakness to make contact on off speed pitches.
He’s gonna have a hard time deciding which cap to wear at his induction.
I think he should go in as a Blue Jay, because I heard that they were interested.
I’m curious on where the catching market is headed the next couple years. It seems like the “franchise catcher” is sought after just as much as SP. Idk, maybe it’s because of the recent big 3 Grandal, McCann, JTR signings, and all the hype around Rutchmann, Bart, and Langeliers.
I’m predicting some large AAV contracts and big trades the next couple years..strictly for the Catching position.
I can’t say in the next few years, but if electronic strike zones become a thing, eliminating the need for pitch framing, it’s going to open up the position to a lot of players who normally wouldn’t be considered. The heyday off offense from catchers may be on the way.
I didn’t even consider that. Great point
A heyday may be coming, but I don’t think it really opens up that position too much more. You need a bunch of other attributes to be a successful C: ability to handle a pitching staff, a strong throwing arm, lightning-fast reflexes, and solid picking/smothering abilities. The absence of pitch-framing will certainly make guys who excel at it, such as Grandal, less valuable, but I don’t think pitch-framing is a big roadblock keeping some guys from being considered for the position.
It’s not like the Red Sox didn’t give him a ton of chances, but he had issues blocking wild pitches, and his bat went dead. He got a shot in left field when injuries hit the team and got hurt playing out there, and his bat has never recovered…
This guy is the victims of being too highly touted plenty of MLB catchers or payers with average to below average defense and less than a .243 career average seem to make it and stay in MLB rosters every year but he’s considered a failure only because of the prospect hype
.271 MLB BA and .714 OPS at age 23-24 as a catcher, pre-bad-injury, and .208 BA with a .587 OPS from ages 25-27 after injury. Best to know better than to lump together the full career of a guy who was visibly not the same after a bad, lingering injury. He was not “too highly touted”; he was progressing steadily at all stops including MLB until the team jerked him around and then got him hurt in the OF. Teams have given him a try because the talent and potential was real, and they have hoped he could get his mojo back (doesn’t look like that’ll ever happen, unfortunately).
I see that Blake Swihart’s career has already begun spawning myths, even though his career was well-recorded during the internet era. Strange.
Swihart DID get an everyday chance, when he was called up prematurely because Boston suffered multiple injuries at the position in the Majors and needed someone there. Before that, he had been progressing well for a prospect at the position (with its longer learning curve) and his defense especially went from being a big question mark to looking good enough. Swihart understandably floundered over his first 14 games (hitting .170/.188/.234) before learning from his lumps and batting .295/.344/.423 over his remaining 70 games. His overall rookie year line wasn’t impressive due to the first two weeks, but he backed up his expectations from there.
Despite proving himself (a year ahead of schedule) at the MLB level, new front office head Dave Dombrowski was enamored with the defensive skills of Christian Vazquez, who was returning from injury. As we’ve seen since, Vazquez was indeed legit, but Swihart at just age 23 had shown All Star upside and was continuing to work on his game by revamping his walk rate (which spiked in spring training and then down in the minors that year). If he could unlock his power potential, he was ready to be an okay-fielding hitting star at the position. But no, DD wanted Vazquez, and so sent Swihart down and made up rumors that his defense was worse than he had already proven it to be the year before.
Swihart seemed to lose some spark with that unjustified demotion, but was willing to do what the team needed by putting in time in LF so he could be called back up to fill a black hole there on the MLB team. He badly hurt his ankle on a fielding play in the OF on June 4th, and his career was never the same. He missed the rest of 2016 (4 months) and his agility and flexibility behind the plate was not recovered in time for the 2017 season, rendering him a part-time player (56 games played total across all levels, nearly all in the minors).
He was never able to find consistent playing time or at bats from there, due to being out of options and thus stuck on the MLB team, and so he never was able to return to being a real catcher or to regain his hitting stroke. And that was that: a promising career set up to fail and then indeed chopped at the knees to make room for a different, lower-ceiling guy by new management. It wasn’t the first time that ever happened, and it won’t be the last!
soxu571 – I remember and agree with everything you said. It is too bad for Swihart that things turned out the way they did.
In a lot of ways following players from draft (or international signing) through the minors, and onto the mlb makes being a fan more fun and makes for for a greater connection to the players.
You guys did a great job explaining Swihart – I’m impressed great stuff