The Red Sox made headlines this weekend by promoting top catching prospect Blake Swihart following the injury to starting catcher Ryan Hanigan.
Swihart, 23, was the Sox' first round pick in the 2011 draft and has flown through the minor leagues, being promoted all the way up to Triple-A last season. He was ranked as the 17th best prospect in baseball prior to this season by Baseball America and continued to mash through his first 18 games (.338/.392/.382 in 74 PA).
While Swihart may have been the best option for the Red Sox at catcher following Hanigan's injury, this call-up does not by any means mean that Swihart is ready for the Major Leagues. Experts predicted that Swihart would need at least the first half of this season in Triple-A, perhaps longer, before getting the call.
Now, he's getting the call in May, and while Red Sox fans are pumped, I, on the other hand, am wary of the decision for just one reason. Swihart hasn't played catcher long enough to have the feel to catch Major League pitching.
Swihart's bat isn't the issue here; it's his defense. The Red Sox converted Swihart, who was a third baseman and outfielder, into a catcher, meaning he has just been calling games and blocking balls since only 2011, whereas many other catchers in the Majors have been doing it their entire baseball careers (amateur included).
Sure, you can make the argument that half a season would not have made the difference in Swihart's defensive development, and generally I would agree with you. However, Swihart has just 31 games of Triple-A experience at catcher (he has 36 appearances), where the best non-Major League pitching is found.
If Swihart was called up in June or July, he would have likely doubled his number of appearances behind the dish, perhaps making a huge difference for the Red Sox down the road.
Even still, he will learn as he goes along. There's no doubt about that. But when you are the Red Sox, wouldn't you want the best overall catcher you can find, at least until you believe Swihart is ready? Swihart is good with the bat, but his defense and game calling probably cannot stand up to those Major League veterans that they could have found cheaply in a trade (e.g. Welington Castillo or Dioner Navarro) or even on the free agent market.
It's hard to know how many runs or wins Swihart's defense and pitch calling will cost the Red Sox, if any. I'm just trying to comprehend calling him up after 36 games in Triple-A. Many players need at least a full season there before they are fully seasoned. And perhaps the Red Sox don't expect Swihart to be fully seasoned, but see him as the best available option.
I could be wrong with this and I hope Swihart does prove me wrong. But taking a step back, I'm not exactly thrilled with the Red Sox decision to be proactive and promote Blake Swihart. Only time will tell, right?