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Swihart set to thrive in utility role for Sox

Manager Cora believes versatile player can be similar to Astros' Gonzalez
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Blake Swihart added another notch to his utility belt on Sunday afternoon, when he played third base for the first time since he was in high school. Add the hot corner to catcher, first base and left field as spots where Swihart has started games this spring.

And you should get used to the roving around when it comes to the former top catching prospect. It matters little that Swihart didn't get any chances on defense in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Pirates. Those will come in time.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Blake Swihart added another notch to his utility belt on Sunday afternoon, when he played third base for the first time since he was in high school. Add the hot corner to catcher, first base and left field as spots where Swihart has started games this spring.

And you should get used to the roving around when it comes to the former top catching prospect. It matters little that Swihart didn't get any chances on defense in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Pirates. Those will come in time.

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What matters is that Swihart is going to get a chance to re-invent himself this season as an invaluable player for the Red Sox who can be used all over the diamond.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That versatility could give manager Alex Cora a chance to get Swihart's bat in the lineup on a semi-regular occasion.

Cora noted there's a difference between utility players like he was during his career, and super-utility players like the one he watched up close last season as bench coach en route to a World Series championship with the Astros.

Clearly, Cora sees Swihart in the "super category," much like Marwin Gonzalez was for those 2017 Astros.

Red Sox Spring Training information

"The Marwin Gonzalezes of the world are good for the manager," said Cora. "They really help you out. People get caught up in the super-utility thing. For me a super utility -- you play good defense and you can hit.

"A utility player is a guy like myself, a good defensive player. With Swi, the way he's moving around and the way he's swinging the bat, I don't want to get ahead of myself and say super utility, but that's what you envision, like Marwin. He's good on both sides of the ball, so you can move him around and your lineup doesn't suffer and defense stays the same."

Before camp started, Swihart sounded like he was having a hard time letting go of the idea of being a full-time catcher. The Red Sox have confidence in his catching ability, but he is blocked from playing there more because the pitching staff has such a rapport and a level of confidence with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon.

As reality sets in and the season draws closer, Swihart is warming up to the idea of being able to have a lot of fun in his more diverse role.

"Yeah, I think so," said Swihart. "How many at-bats did Marwin have last year? Five hundred or something, right? I want to play. Whatever the plan is, that's fine by me."

In 2017, Gonzalez had 515 plate appearances and 455 at-bats for the Astros, slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs. He started 20 games at first base, 14 at second, 15 at third, 33 at short and 38 in left field. Just like Gonzalez, Swihart is a switch-hitter and a switch fielder.

"Yeah, for me and the coaching staff, he was the MVP of that team," Cora said of Gonzalez.

Due to injury problems in the past, Swihart has never had the opportunity to build the offensive track record that Gonzalez established last year. But the scouts have always projected him as a strong and athletic hitter who would flourish if he got the at-bats.

Video: BOS@BAL: Swihart opens scoring with a two-run double

Those at-bats finally might come now that he is fully healthy for the first time in nearly two years.

"The quality of at-bats are there," Cora said. "He understands the strike zone. When he gets certain counts, he tries to do damage. That's good."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Blake Swihart