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RED SOX MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Blake Swihart now an all-around catcher

Red Sox catching prospect Blake Swihart (left) received plenty of instruction — and praise — during spring training. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

Red Sox catching prospect Blake Swihart (left) received plenty of instruction — and praise — during spring training.

The standard is generally two seconds flat.

Catchers are judged by it.

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Once they spot the runner breaking from first base out of the corner of their eye, the time it takes for them to get the ball out of their mitt and gun that runner down at second is that slim.

“Those times have been steadily getting lower and lower,” said Portland Sea Dogs manager Billy McMillon.

Blake Swihart doesn’t even take that long.

“He’s routinely in the 1.8’s now,” McMillon said.

Entering Thursday, 44 runners had tried to swipe a bag on Swihart and 24 of them had walked back to the dugout with their heads down.

It’s a dramatic leap from two years ago, when base stealers were 59 of 86 against him.

In all the ways Swihart has left his fingerprints on games for the Double A Sea Dogs this season, that’s one of the most noticeable.

“In that regard, that quick exchange, hose for an arm, that’s probably the biggest thing that you see,” McMillon said.

With a .288 batting average, nine home runs, and 41 RBIs this season, Swihart has been a force at the plate while becoming a maestro behind it.

“I feel really comfortable,” Swihart said. “I feel comfortable catching. I feel comfortable hitting. I just want to stay more consistent throughout the year and just improve overall just to help myself out.”

Knowing Sea Dogs phenom Henry Owens since they were 16 makes it easy for them to always be on the same page, but the rapport Swihart has developed with the entire pitching staff has been one of the key reasons Portland’s 3.49 team ERA leads the Eastern League.

“He takes time out to get to know all the pitchers and it seems like they’ve been on the same page from Day 1,” McMillon said. “I think the pitchers realize that they’ve got a special catcher back there, so they kind of trust him. And Blake doesn’t ask those guys to do more than they can do. So it works out really well.

“If a pitcher is a little erratic, [Swihart will] run out there and take a meeting and try to get him back on track. Those things, they don’t show up in the box scores, but we appreciate them because he recognizes the flow to the game has kind of slowed down and he can go back and get them back on track. It’s refreshing when you see the young guys take charge and take command and take control of a game.”

The quickest way to judge Swihart’s progress at the plate is by looking at his power numbers. A year ago, he hit .298 with two home runs and 42 RBIs in 103 games with Single A Salem.

Those numbers, though, were deceptive. The dimensions at LewisGale Field (325 feet down the lines, 401 feet to center) have a way of keeping balls in the yard.

“Last year, it was just kind of the league I was in,” Swihart said. “I hit a couple balls last year, if you ask Billy McMillon, he said I’d probably have 10 home runs last year. Just depending on the field and the way the wind was blowing. That’s just kind of how it was last year when I hit the ball.”

McMillon said Swihart could have easily finished with double-digit homers.

“He crushed a lot of balls at home that just got knocked down,” McMillon said

In the offseason, Swihart put on 30 pounds, to get up to 195.

“Power is usually one of the last things to come,” McMillon said. “He’s a year older and stronger, put on some muscle in the offseason. Those same swings that he put on balls last year now are gone. So credit to him and his hard work.”

Swihart has not only added strength, but also durability. He caught 55 of the Sea Dogs’ first 77 games.

“You can see he’s a little more filled in,” McMillon said. “Guys are weight training, conditioning, they’re eating better, it’s a yearlong thing. He’s taken to it. He’s grown into his man-body, I think he’s going to prove to be a lot more durable now that he’s a little bigger, a little wiser about how to take care of his body.”

Now, Swihart’s eyes are on consistency.

“Just have good at-bats, good approach every at-bat and not try to do too much and overswing and just come out of my shoes swinging,” he said. “I just want to stay consistent and put a good swing on the ball. I feel like I’ve done that for the most part this year. I’m putting myself in a good position to hit.”

Three to watch

Mookie Betts, Pawtucket: By going 3 for 5 on Wednesday, Betts boosted his batting average with Triple A Pawtucket to .337, with six extra-base hits, 14 RBIs, 12 walks, and two homers. He’s reached base in all 21 games he’s played.

Luis Diaz, Portland: A 6-3 record, a 3.33 ERA, and 48 strikeouts in 13 starts with Salem earned the 22-year-old righthander a promotion to Portland last week. In two starts at Double A he’s 2-0, with eight strikeouts and just two earned runs in 14 innings.

Nick Longhi, Lowell: Through his first 11 games with the short-season Spinners this season, the 18-year-old has hit .324 with four doubles and five RBIs while bouncing between first base and the outfield corners.

Shaw snaps slump

Pawtucket first baseman Travis Shaw snapped out of a 6-for-38 slump with a 3-for-4 night against the Norfolk Tides on Wednesday. He ripped a pair of doubles and a homer and drove in five in the 16-5 win . . . Garin Cecchini is the latest Red Sox prospect to show position flexibility. Pawtucket’s usual third baseman has played three games in left field this week. He drove in two runs on Wednesday . . . Teddy Stankiewicz, the Sox’ second-round pick last year, gave up a season-high six runs on 10 hits over five innings in Greenville’s loss to the Asheville Tourists on Wednesday. That followed back-to-back wins in which he gave up just one run and four hits over 13 innings.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.
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