Phillies get firsthand look at Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round (26th overall) of the 2011 draft. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- For the 1,377th day since he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2011, Blake Swihart was not traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels on Sunday. But that didn't matter much to those of us in the media biz looking to perpetuate the never-ending plot line that suggests that'll change one of these days.

So there was Swihart on the Red Sox lineup card Sunday, facing the Phillies in the Phillies' home park. And there was his manager, making sure we all knew, before anyone actually asked, that the schedule just worked out that way. Yeah, really.

"No," said John Farrell, "this isn't a showcase."

But a sizable delegation of Phillies execs watched intently from behind the plate nonetheless. And Farrell couldn't help but notice the attractive life-size photo of Hamels he got a chance to stare at on his ride down the elevator to the clubhouse.

And when a media throng started heading Swihart's way before the game, let's just say the consensus best catching prospect in baseball didn't need to check with the media relations department to discern what this was all about.

"I think it's funny," he said, "just like you guys do."

The part of this that isn't so funny, of course, is the trouble the Red Sox have run into trying to do business with the Phillies, in a deal to acquire a certain ace starter whose name hasn't come up in, oh, three paragraphs now.

The Phillies, from all accounts, have taken the same position on this for a long, long time now. And that position is: If Swihart isn't in this deal, there won't be a deal.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have taken a slightly different position. They've told the Phillies consistently that Swihart isn't on the table, won't be on the table in three weeks, won't be on the table in three months and most likely won't ever be on that table.

So the two teams have made virtually zero headway on any potential Hamels trade, multiple sources say. And there's no sign that will be changing any time soon, no matter how many times us media rumor-mongers keep that eternal flame burning.

But on spring training days like this, when guys like Blake Swihart just happen to find themselves in the lineup against teams they've been linked to in 4.7 billion rumors, this was still a story ready to pretty much write itself.

And it's a story Swihart, not surprisingly, is slightly familiar with. Not that he makes it a point to read any of those accounts himself.

"Not that much," he said Sunday. "I hear it all the time, though. It's kind of hard not to hear it. At the end of the day, though, I play for the Red Sox, and I want to play for the Red Sox. I like being here, and I like playing here."

Asked if his family and friends are constantly relaying the latest Rumor Central tidbits on this saga, Swihart could only laugh.

"My mom and dad are all over Facebook worrying about that," he said. "I don't even have a Facebook. So I just let them worry about it and let them talk to friends. And I just play the game."

And that, obviously, is what he does best. All Swihart did last year, between Double-A and Triple-A, was hit .293/.341/.469, with 13 homers, eight steals (in nine tries) and a 45.6 percent success rate in throwing out runners who made the mistake of trying to steal on him.

He then breezed into his second big league camp this spring and picked up right where he left off. His 2-for-3 day Sunday hiked his spring slash line to .539/.600/.769. And what has opened even more eyes than his bat is the fact that even after he comes out of games, he spends the rest of the day in the dugout, picking the brains of coaches, veterans or human catching encyclopedias like Jason Varitek.

"He knows in his own mind that his opportunity is approaching," Farrell said. "When that happens, obviously, remains to be seen. But I just think he's gaining in confidence, he's gaining in strength. I think last year's experience at the Triple-A level was important for him to be dealing with some veteran pitchers and getting a little bit more insight into game-calling. And there's always going to be a maintenance part of his game.

"The receiving side of things is a work in progress, even though that's getting better by the day. He's a bright-looking young player. But there's still work to be done."

Nevertheless, the Red Sox haven't wavered on one theme: They want that work to be done with the Red Sox. And Farrell said that he and general manager Ben Cherington made it a point, before this camp ever started, to let Swihart know that.

"He's a Red Sox," Farrell said. "And we think he'll be a Red Sox player for a number of years."

But even though Swihart was the story du jour Sunday, Farrell made sure to mention a related development he's hoping no one loses sight of: There's another young catcher on his roster who's actually the starting catcher. Like right now.

"Even if Blake wasn't here, I don't know if I've ever been around a catcher as good as Christian Vazquez," the manager said. "Blake is the name that's always been in the rumors, because of what he potentially could be attached to. But the guy who is as good as anybody in the game right now, as far as catching, receiving and throwing, is Christian Vazquez."

It will be fascinating to see how this team eventually handles its glut of high-end young catching. But in the meantime, there's one thing we can say for sure: Neither of them is on the verge of getting traded for Cole Hamels. No kidding.