Before Blake Swihart joined the crowd Friday night at the Portland Sea Dogs Hot Stove Dinner, he waited in a small conference room at the Sable Oaks Marriott with a chore to do.

Swihart was asked to autograph more than 100 photos. The first was a brilliant Rick Rosenfeld shot of Swihart’s swing during one of his final at-bats at Fenway Park last season. A smart-aleck sports writer quipped that Swihart likely hit a dribbler to the third baseman.

“No, I think it was a line drive,” Swihart said without hesitation.

Since it was the second half of the 2015 season, Swihart had a good chance of being right.

Swihart, 23, the one-time minor league prospect in Portland was thrust into the major leagues last year because of injuries. Having to develop on the run, Swihart progressed, and in the second half of the year batted .303 with an .805 OPS.

And Swihart, who rarely played catcher until he was drafted four years ago, continued to hone his craft – on the major league stage.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do, still develop and compete on the major league level, and I think he did both.”

That was Jason Varitek speaking recently. Varitek has been a mentor to Swihart and enjoys talking about his student.

“Blake’s year was phenomenal,” Varitek said. “He’s continuing to grow as a catcher. I think he does a lot of things extremely well behind the plate and will continue to advance, the more and more he catches.”

Swihart had not heard those comments until Friday. “That’s nice,” he said.

“It was a good first year. I made improvements, as Jason said, throughout the year. And at the end of the year I looked like I had a good head on my shoulders and I was comfortable, and that’s how I felt – just going out there and doing the best I could do and try to help the team get some wins.”

But can Swihart best help as a catcher?

It’s not an answer that needs an immediate answer, but with Swihart’s athleticism and Boston’s depth at catcher, the Red Sox have options.

Boston has three catchers on its 40-man roster: Swihart, Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan.

Hanigan, last year’s opening-day starter, was a capable fill-in after Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training. Hanigan batted .247/.664 OPS and was a veteran receiver. When he suffered a broken hand May 1, Swihart was summoned from Triple-A.

Hanigan, 35, is signed through this season with a club option for 2017. His value is experience and he makes a good backup. But he isn’t the future.

The future appears to be Vazquez, 25, already considered one of the finest defensive catchers in the game. He played 55 games in 2014 and ranked third among American League catchers in Defensive Runs Saves, according to He has quickness and a cannon arm, and pitchers rave about his ability to frame pitches.

Vazquez batted .240/.617 in 2014 before being sidelined last year. He played in the Puerto Rico Winter League recently (DH only) and hit .317/672.

The belief is Vazquez will to hit enough to justify keeping him behind the plate. But it does not appear he’ll be ready to start the season, leaving Swihart and Hanigan on the opening-day roster.

Swihart should be the starter, based on his bat and developing defense. But what happens when Vazquez is ready?

Boston can get creative with Swihart, who played shortstop, third base and the outfield in high school, and first base for Team USA. Before the Red Sox signed him, the University of Texas offered him a scholarship, with plans for him at third base.

Looking beyond 2016, a Vazquez-Swihart catching tandem could be productive. Vazquez could get most of the playing time behind the plate but Swihart could handle first or designated hitter (with David Ortiz retired).

Swihart isn’t diving into the speculation.

“Right now I’m a catcher and I want to put all my focus there,” he said. “By the end of (last) year, I felt really comfortable (catching) and I’ve worked on it a lot this offseason.”

But if Vazquez becomes an All-Star catcher?

“If I need to play another position to stay in the big leagues, that’s what I’ll do,” Swihart said.

Catchers who can hit are often moved to other positions as they get older. Boston, with its depth, can move Swihart around while he’s still young and keep his bat in the lineup – where, presumably, he will continue to hit line drives.