Talent draws clubs to top catcher Swihart
Prep backstop could choose Texas over high selection
Rio Rancho, N.M., is, as Blake Swihart puts it, attached to Albuquerque. Anyone heading from the airport for a getaway to Santa Fe, for instance, would have to drive by it. Chances are, though, few would suspect that a top-flight amateur baseball prospect called it home.
But that's precisely what Swihart is, a just-graduated high schooler who is considered to have one of the best bats of any teenager in the Draft class. The fact that some see that bat as having potential behind the plate just adds to his stock. To say that Swihart might be the best prospect to come from New Mexico in some time isn't really going out on a limb.
However, the 19-year-old Swihart is quick to jump to his state's defense, pointing to Max Walla, the Brewers' second-round pick in 2009, Sam Wilson, selected by the Rangers in the 20th round a year ago who is now at the University of New Mexico, and Alex Bregman, a 2012 prospect who played on the USA Baseball U16 team last summer, as examples from a burgeoning crop of talent.
"New Mexico is actually growing. The baseball world is starting to grow," said Swihart, who would love to help increase the profile of the game there. "If New Mexico gets on the map, it's great. There's a lot of hidden talent here, I believe."
To find out when Swihart does hear his name called, tune into live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft that begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Swihart gives the Albuquerque Baseball Academy a lot of credit, at least for getting him noticed and putting him in the position he currently finds himself. He learned how to switch-hit there, and he says the ABA has been responsible for getting him all the looks he's received, leading to participation in things like the AFLAC All-American Game and playing for Team USA last summer, when he lead the squad with a .448 average.
But it almost didn't happen. Swihart grew up in Amarillo, Texas, moving to the Albuquerque suburb in sixth grade. The family had to relocate for Arlan Swihart's work. The younger Swihart explains that he doesn't know exactly what his father does because his dad is not allowed to discuss his lab in Los Alamos, N.M. Carla Swihart runs a home day care which her son helps out with after school or baseball practice (Arlan's lab likely didn't have similar part-time job opportunities).
One thing Swihart did not leave behind is his love for the University of Texas. Swihart calls it his "dream school." He plans on going to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Tournament, which begins on Wednesday, and then on to follow the Longhorns in regional play. It's this commitment to play for Texas that will make Swihart a very tough sign following the Draft, with most teams believing it will take a deal far above slot to get it done. Swihart, for his part, doesn't say anything to change that sentiment. He says he won't even watch the Draft, because he will be on a camping trip with a large contingent of his father's family who are coming in to celebrate his high school graduation.
"Right now, I have to look at it like it's Texas," Swihart said about his immediate future. "We have to see what the Draft does, but I can't pin all my options on that. I'm not going to be stupid and give away life-changing stuff, but it's been my dream."
That dream might not include catching. Swihart really only started catching his junior season of high school, and he didn't end up spending much time behind the plate, as his team needed him more on the left side of the infield. Swihart gets good grades for his arm strength, and while many feel he might be OK as a backstop, some scouts feel it would be better to allow his special bat to avoid the wear and tear of catching by moving it to, say, a corner outfield spot. It sounds like Texas has the same idea.
"I probably won't catch very much, because they want my bat in the lineup," Swihart said. "As long as I'm playing, that's perfectly fine with me."
It wouldn't be the first time a catching prospect got moved to another position for that very reason. The Royals moved Wil Myers to the outfield this season after allowing him to catch for one full season. And, of course, there's Bryce Harper, last year's No. 1 pick. It's a name that's been mentioned before in talking about Swihart. On the New Mexico high school standout's AFLAC All-American card, he's compared to Harper, as well as luminaries such as Jason Heyward and Ike Davis.
"I think it's mainly my bat that is what they compare it to," Swihart said. "I don't compare myself to anyone. Those are great people to be compared to. If I can live up to that, then that's going to be great."