|Red Sox sign first-round catcher Blake Swihart for $2.5 million||08.16.11 at 12:16 am ET|
In the days leading up to the draft, the Red Sox wrestled with the decision. They were well aware that Blake Swihart, a switch-hitting high school catcher out of New Mexico, would be one of the most difficult signings they could take. They recognized that the 19-year-old had spent much of his life anticipating a college career at the University of Texas, and that he had the closet filled with Longhorns gear to prove it.
And so, in the days leading up to the draft, front office members mulled the pivotal question. If he was still available with the No. 26 pick, would they rather draft Swihart and risk being unable to sign him, or would they rather go for a safer signability bet only to find out that Swihart had indeed been signable when another team locked him up?
Ultimately, those in the draft room felt that they could sleep at night if they selected a player whom they coveted and proved unable to sign him. On the other hand, they would have been dogged by regret had they passed on Swihart for another player whom they did not like as much only to see him begin a professional career for another team.
The Sox’ decision to draft him was informed by a workout that the catcher had in front of team officials. One Saturday this season in New Mexico, he played in a doubleheader, catching in the first game and then playing shortstop in the second. Everything about his game was impressive — his arm and footwork behind the plate, his swings from both sides of the plate, even his defensive comfort in the infield that suggested tremendous athleticism that would make him a prospect at positions other than catcher.
But the most important component of that scouting day may have come after the games. The two Sox evaluators on hand were hoping to work out Swihart. His high school field was unavailable, and so Swihart was happy to hop in a car, drive about 45 minutes to another high school and conduct the workout. Again, the performance was impressive — he showed a tremendous approach and bat control, especially while batting right-handed (his natural side).
The Sox saw a switch-hitting catcher with the chance to emerge as a .300 hitter with 15 or more homers a season and above-average defense. Such a package suggested a potential All-Star, the sort of player who could give the Sox the kind of production that few teams receive from a position that is typified by pitiful offense.
But in some ways, that was not the most significant aspect of the day. The fact that Swihart had been willing to make the haul across New Mexico — after playing for roughly six hours in two games — told the Sox that he hadn’t closed the door to turning pro.
The team knew that Swihart would have to “be convinced” — likely by briefcases filled with owner John Henry‘s cash — but the team felt that other teams’ conclusion that Swihart was virtually unsignable was not entirely accurate. He was not, the Sox felt, in the same class as outfielder Josh Bell, a player who had signaled to teams that there was essentially no amount of money that could convince him to sign.
Ultimately, the Sox were right. Swihart signed for $2.5 million, a bonus figure first reported by Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com and Keith Law of ESPN.com. It is the largest bonus given out by the Sox to a high school position player under GM Theo Epstein. Of course, if Swihart fulfills the Sox’ projections of him, that sum could end up seeming like a relative pittance. For now, it was enough to get Swihart to pass on his college career at Texas and to turn pro.
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