I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2011 has to offer each Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.
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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still 6’1”, 175 lbs?
Blake Swihart: Yes, that’s correct.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Obviously baseball is first and foremost, but do you play any other sports? You have a Texas background, so I can only assume you played football…
Blake Swihart: Yeah, freshman and sophomore year I played football and played quarterback. I played basketball all the way up to my junior year until my dad made me quit for my senior year to make sure I wouldn’t get hurt for baseball.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Which one did you like more, basketball or football?
Blake Swihart: I’d say basketball because that was the one I was better at out of the two. I was All-Metro and All-State in basketball. It was hard to leave it and only focus on baseball, but I think it’s going to work out for the best.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: [laughs] I’d say so. What position were you playing? The one? Two?
Blake Swihart: I was a three because I can jump a little bit and get in there and bang with the big guys.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you dunk? One foot? Two feet?
Blake Swihart: Yeah I can, both ways. I jump off two feet better, but I can do two hands off of one foot.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was it that you realized you could possibly use baseball in your life beyond high school?
Blake Swihart: I would say it was my freshman year. There’s a baseball academy here in Albuquerque called ABA, and I was there my freshman year throwing a bullpen. They wanted to get a gun on me and when they did it showed 85 MPH. That same day I went to an Albuquerque Isotopes game, a AAA team, and the opposing pitcher was throwing 85 MPH. I looked over at my dad and said, “dad, I can do this! I can hit that! I can throw that!” I guess that was when I started realizing it.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still pitching at all?
Blake Swihart: Not right now, no. I’m going to start closing when we get to district and state, but my dad doesn’t want me taking any chances with my arm.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I can understand that, I remember Luke Bailey two years ago was in almost the exact same situation as you and blew his arm out right before the draft. Have you been clocked recently?
Blake Swihart: Yeah, I was in the bullpen at ABA about a month ago messing around and threw 95 MPH…but my dad doesn’t let me do it though [laughs].
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You are originally from Texas, but when did you move to New Mexico?
Blake Swihart: Well, I was born in Bedford, Texas, right outside of Dallas, and then we moved to Albuquerque right after that and lived there for a couple of years. Then we were in Amarillo, Texas for about five years, and we finally moved here in my 5th grade year, so probably when I was 10 or 11 years old.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So do you consider yourself a New Mexican or a Texan?
Blake Swihart: Oh, I consider myself from Texas; I love Texas. That’s why I chose UT – it was my dream school; I was always wearing burnt orange growing up. That’s where I wanted to go.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So there was not really much of a competition for you?
Blake Swihart: There was, I narrowed it down to OSU and Texas in the end and couldn’t choose between those two for a while, but I just couldn’t pass on UT. It’s such a big-time place with great tradition and great competition.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: On the flip side, how much have you thought about the draft?
Blake Swihart: You know, I try not to think about it that much – I’m just really focused on going to Texas right now and it’s hard to pass that up to go pro where you don’t know what your chances are. At the same time it’s pretty hard not to think about it when there are scouts watching you at every game, I mean at my first game there were 27 scouts there. So it’s hard not to think about it when you have people there video taping you during BP and stuff. It’s just a fun process right now, but I’m really looking forward to Texas.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself to dream of playing professionally, what is the image you get in your mind?
Blake Swihart: Just stepping out onto the field wearing a big league uniform. Hitting against that great competition – those guys that have been in the league for a while, maybe someone who is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. I know the minor leagues are part of the whole process, but my dream is to make it to the big time.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from?
Blake Swihart: I’ve had 28 in-home visits, and the other two were my two Area Code coaches, so they already know me. They said they’re coming in eventually anyway though, so I’ve pretty much had everybody in.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are the Yankees one of those 28?
Blake Swihart: Yes, the Yankees came in. They actually followed me to a tournament down in southern New Mexico – they took a four hour car trip to watch me play, so yeah, they’ve seen me.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How did switch-hitting come about for you?
Blake Swihart: I was a sophomore in high school and messing around at ABA one day. I had always played with it a little, but never really tried it. That summer my catching coach Ryan Kellner told me that all I was going to do was switch-hit, and he didn’t care if I struck out 20 times in a row. So I ended up doing that all summer and it turned out to be the best thing that I ever did.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So you only started switch-hitting officially in your junior year?
Blake Swihart: Yes. The first time I ever hit lefty in high school was my junior year.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you still feel like you are transitioning a bit?
Blake Swihart: No, I feel so comfortable. I’ve taken so many swings lefty that I feel more comfortable lefty than I do righty on most days now.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Which side does each of the traditional scouting skills better?
Blake Swihart: Right now it really doesn’t matter to me, I just go up and hit and both sides feel good, but I think scouts like my lefty swing a little bit better because it’s a little shorter and quicker, but I stay in the zone longer. I have a natural uppercut righty, so I have a little more pop from that side.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: From a very simple perspective, what is your primary objective when you take an at bat?
Blake Swihart: What I try to do every single time up there, no matter if it’s a fastball or offspeed, is keep my hands inside the ball and drive it to the opposite field gap. So if I’m hitting righty I try to hit it off the wall in the right-centerfield gap as hard as I can. I don’t try to hit homeruns, I don’t try to hit groundballs, I just want linedrives – that’s all I’m about.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Having a real focus on the opposite field as your primary objective is rare for a high school kid. Is it something you had to work on to develop, or is that just the way you naturally hit?
Blake Swihart: My dad has always drilled oppo into me. Ever since Little League he has always told me you have more power to the opposite side of the field because you’re hitting the ball so deep into the zone. I’ve always stuck with that philosophy and just aim for the gaps now.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your approach in terms of discipline at the plate?
Blake Swihart: In high school baseball, if it’s over the plate it doesn’t matter to me if it’s offspeed or fastball – in an 0-0 count I’m going to be swinging. In the summer at events like Team USA and Area Codes, I’ll let the first pitch curveball or changeup go by and wait for that fastball to show them what I can do.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you think scouts would say is your best tool/skill at this point?
Blake Swihart: They’d probably say my hands because I’m really quick and I get there on balls that are 95 MPH on the inside, but they’d also say how competitive I am. I rarely, if ever, strike out, so they’d probably like the competitor that I am. I go up there every time to put the ball in play and make the other team have to make a play.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many times did you strike out last year in your high school season?
Blake Swihart: High school season? Twice. And that was because umpires made bad calls, just so you know! [laughs].
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: [laughs] Do you remember which side of the plate you were on?
Blake Swihart: They were actually both righty, I think. I haven’t struck out this year yet though.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I assume they were both looking?
Blake Swihart: Yes, they were looking because they were both bad calls [laughs]. In New Mexico for some reason they like to call the zone harder on you if you’re a top player. I was in a tournament and the umpire called two curveballs that broke a foot outside, and when I went out the next inning to catch I asked the umpire “why are we calling those?” and he said “oh, I was trying to let you show the scouts what you can do.” I was thinking “well, just let me worry about that, you just worry about calling the strikezone!” So that’s why I’m a bit more aggressive when I’m playing high school ball.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Where do you currently hit in the lineup
Blake Swihart: I’m a three-hole hitter.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Moving on to defense, how long have you been catching?
Blake Swihart: I started catching my junior year of high school.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In that short time period what have you picked up about the significance of the position?
Blake Swihart: As the catcher I feel like you’re the leader of the team. You call the pitch that’s coming, you call the plays, let both the infield and outfield know what they’re doing – you’re just in control of the game and you’ve got to be involved in every play. Honestly though, I haven’t been playing catcher much this year for my high school, I’ve been playing shortstop. I caught last year in high school because we didn’t have anybody else, but we developed a sophomore catcher this year and he’s doing pretty well, so I’m playing shortstop to help the team out on the infield a little more.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So what have scouts been saying they see you as in the future?
Blake Swihart: They say they like my catching, but they also say I probably won’t stay there. They like how versatile I am, and they say I’m a five-tool guy, so they say the outfield, maybe second or third base.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In terms of your speed, what is the fastest 60 you have ran?
Blake Swihart: I’ve ran a 6.8 before, but I’m never going to be the fastest 60 runner. I can run bases, though. I’m much faster on the bases – in 9 games I have something like 14 stolen bases already. I’m a better base runner than I am a 60 runner.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What would someone watching you play from the stands see in terms of your outward personality?
Blake Swihart: I’m a calm and collected person. I try to not let anything get to me so much that I get caught up in that specific moment. I just go out, play, and have fun. You fail more in this game than you succeed, so you’ve got to learn to take it.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When it comes to the pros, who do you root for? Rangers? Diamondbacks?
Blake Swihart: I used to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but lately I don’t really lean towards any team. I just like watching and playing any baseball I can.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are the players you look up to for their skills or the way they play the game?
Blake Swihart: I like Albert Pujols. I like the elite hitter that he is, and how even in the homerun derby he doesn’t have to change his swing to hit homeruns – he keeps the same swing, attacks the ball down, and waits on the pitch. I just like the way he carries himself.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one skill from anyone else in your draft class, whose would it be and why?
Blake Swihart: I’d probably say Isaiah Conklin. He went to Cleveland last year and had moved to Silver City because his parents got a new job, but I’d want to steal his speed. He can probably run a 6.3 60. He moves.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest pitcher you have faced.
Blake Swihart: When we were doing USA trials I face Lance McCullers and Christian Montgomery. Lance throwing 98 MPH and then dropping a 91 MPH slider was pretty hard to hit. Christian has this weird offspeed, knuckleball/curveball thing that I could barely catch when I was behind the plate. I wouldn’t even want to try and hit it.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You are already one of the top prospects in the nation, but what are you doing to get even better now?
Blake Swihart: Honestly, I need to work on catching a lot – you can always improve. I can improve my hands and my feet when I’m catching. With my hitting, there’s always something to improve on. You can learn to bunt better, learn how to hit in certain spots or to certain areas. You can always improve in the game of baseball.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is playing professionally out of high school something that interests you if the contract and situation are right?
Blake Swihart: The situation has got to be right – I’m not going to be stupid about it – but it’s hard to give up Texas. I went on my visit, got treated like royalty, and I just loved it, so it’s going to be hard to pass up.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If Blake Swihart is not at the baseball field he can be found…
Blake Swihart: …at ABA swinging a bat in the cages.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: And if it is not baseball related?
Blake Swihart: Probably hanging out with the guys on my baseball team. They came over two days last week and we had a fire pit in my backyard, so I’m always doing something that’s connected to baseball. For all of yesterday and today I umpired 10 year olds as a way to make some money, so I’m always on a baseball field or doing something with baseball.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How do you try and remain a normal 18 year old high school senior when, quite frankly, you don’t have normal opportunities in front of you? How do you deal with that pressure and still stay grounded?
Blake Swihart: You know, this process is a lot more stressful than everyone realizes. All the scouts always come over and say “go enjoy it, go be a high school senior and have fun,” so half the time I don’t even like to stay and talk to them because I just want to get out on the field and enjoy myself. I’ll shake hands, tell them I’m glad they made it, but then go out on the field and just try to have some fun. I try not to focus on all the scouts, and instead look to hang out with my boys, play baseball, and not worry about all the other stuff, because it can get pretty stressful at points. I’ll talk to my parents a lot when those times come around, but usually just going to the cage and hitting for a few hours helps me work through anything! So, if I had a girlfriend and she was annoying me I’d probably go hit baseballs and I’d be good afterwards. [laughs]
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: [laughs] So baseball is essentially your girlfriend at this point?
Blake Swihart: [laughs] Yep, pretty much! That’s my number one priority.