Catching prospect Swihart eager to learn

BOSTON -- Instead of re-signing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia or paying big money for marquee free agents Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, the Red Sox opted to sign veteran A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal this offseason, a move that could mean big things for several of the team’s catching prospects in the minor leagues.

Among the names is 2011 first-round pick Blake Swihart, who was in Boston Saturday for the Jimmy Fund’s annual New Stars for Young Stars event.

Swihart, who has been working out with several other professional players in Albuquerque, New Mexico this offseason, talked to reporters about his preparation for his third season in the minors.

“Just been working out,” Swihart said. “Hitting every day, lifting every day, trying to put on size and mass.”

Up to 200 pounds, nearly 40 more than he weighed in at when he first signed out of high school, Swihart said he feels much stronger while also having to learn to avoid sacrificing his flexibility behind the plate due to his new size. Still just three years into catching, Swihart plans to emphasize his defense this year, mainly his pitch calling and learning as much as he can from the veteran catchers above him, including Pierzynski, who was also in attendance Saturday.

“[I’ll talk to] any catcher. [David] Ross. I talked to Salty last year [during spring training]. Any catcher that comes in and has way more experience catching than I do, I definitely pick their brain,” Swihart said. “If I have a question I’m going to ask. Even if I don’t have a question, I make one up so I can hear what they have to say, whether it be catching or hitting or how to balance both of them together.”

Among the brains Swihart picked last season is that of former Red Sox icon Jason Varitek who visited the Salem Red Sox twice to meet and work with the 21-year-old Swihart. Varitek, currently serving the team as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington, went over the mental aspects of catching with Swihart as well as giving him advice on switch-hitting.

“He’s just a book of knowledge, everything he says has a meaning,” Swihart said.

The hard work has not come without results as Swihart was named the organization’s minor league Defensive Player of the Year last year as well as being invited to participate in the Red Sox’s yearly Rookie Development program from January 13-18.

Although Swihart acknowledged Pierzynski’s one-year deal as a good sign, he still knows there’s a lot of work to be done before he reaches the majors.

“I’ve still got to perform,” Swihart said. “I’ve got to play like I know how to play.”