Every Spring Training, at some point, early or later on, there’s always at least a couple of players caught on a fuzzy cell phone camera video having difficulty doing something during practice. The first known case in 2017 is Boston’s catcher Blake Swihart.
I’m no expert, but it’s not necessarily ideal for a major league catcher to have problems throwing a baseball back to the pitcher.
Including the video above, Swihart has also reportedly thrown more balls over pitchers’ heads, thrown a few wide right and left, and double-clutched a couple, too. This has apparently been a daily occurrence.
There’s no need to panic, though. Back on June 4th of last year, Swihart crashed into the left field wall of Fenway Park, injuring his ankle, which essentially ended his season. What was a catcher doing in left field, you ask? The Red Sox dealt with a number of injuries to left fielders last season, and they had three catchers, so they plopped one of them in left. Swihart just happened to be the guy most fit for the job, struggling early on behind the plate and the most physically-fit for the position out of the three.
So, it’s been quite some time since Swihart has performed much baseball activity; not to mention he hasn’t caught since last April. It isn’t out of this world to see a baseball player go through a position switch, get injured and then come back to have issues at his natural position, especially for a catcher.
If there’s anyone to blame, a good majority of it can be put on John Farrell. Boston’s skipper loves putting random guys in at totally random positions, only to have them eventually get hurt. He has most recently done this to one of his starting pitchers, Steven Wright. On a hot afternoon in Los Angeles in August, Farrell put the rather bulky pitcher in at second base as a pinch runner, who ended up injuring his shoulder diving back to second. Not to mention, he’s still injured and isn’t 100% nearing the end of February. That story goes hand-in-hand with Swihart’s. Farrell could have easily called up a minor league outfielder or something, instead of putting his inexperienced, young catcher out in left field for the first time in his professional career. It was never going to end well, one way or another.
Both Swihart and Farrell have commented on the errant throws. Swihart says that the whole thing has been “overblown”, it’s not a big deal, he’ll be fine and it isn’t the yips. Farrell too was asked if it was yips, and he said he “wouldn’t go that far”. If history tells us anything, it’s that this team is notorious for downplaying things that end up causing problems in the future. You can’t really trust this team when it comes to stuff like this. For example, Wright was only supposed to be out for a couple of weeks with that shoulder injury, but he didn’t play in a game for the rest of the season and is still recovering. Reliever Carson Smith was also only supposed to be out for a little while to start the season with elbow issues, but he ended up having Tommy John surgery and isn’t coming back until June or July of this year. Yes, those are injuries, different from throwing issues, but they’re all in the same category as far as the downplaying factor goes.
Seeing a young catcher have mechanical issues like this is never great to see, all things considered. Like I said, he hasn’t caught since April of 2016, quickly changed positions and suffered a nasty injury and is just now playing again with his teammates as a catcher. It’s completely normal for him to need a little while to get his mechanics back. This is just Spring Training and it’s a time for everyone to get the rust off before April rolls around. Swihart is still young and he’s simply in his own head. He can say whatever he wants about it not being the yips, but I guarantee that it’s a mental thing.
Swihart isn’t the first athlete to experience this and he’s certainly not the last. Give him some time and he’ll regain any lost trust between him and the pitchers he works with. It’s a little scary to watch that video, sure, all Red Sox fans felt a tad bit of second-hand embarrassment, but it’s nothing he can’t overcome. He’s not some guy in his mid-30’s trying to make a comeback. He’s in his early twenties coming off an injury, still getting re-acclimated to catching and throwing short-distance. Within a couple of days, this will be old news and everything will be back to normal.