Blake Swihart hopes to catch on in due time

AP Photos/Mike Janes

BOSTON -- Throughout everything Christian Vazquez was able to accomplish as a member of the Boston Red Sox last season, top catching prospect Blake Swihart was closely observing from afar.

Thrust into the starting catching role after the release of A.J. Pierzynski, Vazquez was entrusted with the position from July onward. With veteran David Ross serving as a mentor in the backup role, the team kept Vazquez on a loose leash, allowing him to learn on the job what it takes to be a major league catcher.

This year, Vazquez is expected to be the team's starting catcher. Meanwhile, Swihart is figures to be ticketed for Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hopes he'll soon get his shot the way Vazquez did last year to make an impact at the major league level.

"He got an opportunity and he ran away with it," Swihart said Friday at the team's Rookie Development Program workout. "If I can do that same thing, if I can go out there and be that competitive and that supportive and have the camaraderie that he had with all his teammates, that'll be good."

Considered by many to be the Red Sox's top prospect, Swihart is on the cusp of the majors. Between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket last season, the 22-year-old hit .293 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs. In addition, he starred defensively, throwing out 45.6 percent of attempted base stealers during the regular season, including an Eastern League-leading 47.5 percent while he was with Portland.

It was another strong season for the 2011 first-round draft pick after breaking out with High-A Salem in 2013. And yet, Swihart says he still feels he has much more to learn.

"Overall get a little better each year," Swihart said. "Improve on something, improve your overall game, improve how well of a teammate you are, how well of a leader I am. Just go out there and improve everywhere I can."

While there was always an expectation that Swihart would hit, how quickly he has proven himself defensively has been a pleasant surprise for the organization. Relatively new to catching when he was drafted out of V. Sue Cleveland High School in New Mexico, Swihart has developed into an above-average catcher. He is expected to be able to stick at the position for years to come.

"He really focused his energy on the defensive side, which is what you'd ask of a guy and any of these guys when they get called up to the major leagues for the first time," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "Those are the kind of basic expectations that the staff is looking for -- reliable, consistent defense, knowing what you're supposed to be doing, knowing where you're supposed to be."

Offensively, Swihart, a switch-hitter, has shown the ability to not only hit, but hit for power. Because of that, his ceiling is generally considered to be higher than that of Vazquez, who has elite potential defensively but has yet to prove himself with the bat.

"Each year [Swihart has] become more refined in his entire game," Crockett said. "At the plate it's a lot about consistency. It's a lot about staying within himself and staying with the approach he needs at the plate to be successful."

Asked how he has evolved offensively, Swihart said sticking with his approach has been the key to his success. After being asked to add 20 pounds last offseason to bulk up, Swihart said he has added nearly 14 more this offseason as he gets closer to reaching his dream of being a major league player.

He isn't starting to think about the majors yet, though. Instead, Swihart said he wanted to remain focused on what he needs to continue working on, including forming a relationship this spring with the Red Sox veteran starters.

However, his time is likely to come soon enough, maybe even this season. Until then, he'll continue to keep an eye on Vazquez at the level above him, hoping he, too, will be entrusted with that same type of responsibility once he finally gets the call.

"We'll see what happens," Swihart said. "I've just got to go out and play like I know I can play no matter where I'm at and just focus on that at that time."