The Cedar Rapids Kernels dropped an ugly 5-2 game to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers back on July 9 and Kernels manager Jake Mauer clearly was not a happy man afterward.
His line up had left eight runners stranded in scoring position on the night and played some shoddy defense in a loss on a night when Kernels pitching combined to strike out 13 opposing hitters.
“We’re going to have some changes,” Mauer promised that night, in a post-game interview.
Catcher Alex Swim went 1 for 4 as the team’s designated hitter in that loss and he has not DH’d since.
Then again, he hasn’t done much catching, either.
The next night, July 10, again against the Timber Rattlers, Swim was inserted as the Kernels’ right fielder.
Maybe Mauer was just trying to give some of his regular outfield crew a wake-up call or maybe he knew something nobody else did, but Swim gunned down Rattler baserunner Omar Garcia at home in that game and he has been the starting right fielder for the Kernels on every line up card Mauer has filled out since.
He’s put on the catcher’s gear for a game in that stretch only twice. Once to finish a rain shortened game in which he had started as the catcher (he played right field in the full game following the completion of the postponed contest) and he made one appearance at catcher late in a game after starting catcher Michael Quesada was removed for a pinch runner.
Swim was already riding a six game hitting streak pieced together starting June 30 as he rotated between catching, DHing and taking his turn riding the pine as part of what was, for a time, a four-man catching rotation that included Mitch Garver and Bo Altobelli, along with Quesada and Swim.
After being inserted in to the every day line up, Swim swatted hits in another eight consecutive games, making him the proud owner of a 14-game streak, the longest by a Kernels hitter this season, before the streak was snapped on July 21.
On the season, Swim is batting .341 in the 26 games he’s suited up with the Kernels.
In an interview late last week, Swim said he played some outfield during his junior and senior years at Elon University in North Carolina, “just to get a little break from behind the plate.”
Coming in to the season, though, he wasn’t expecting to see this much time on the outfield grass.
“During (extended spring training), they asked me if I had an outfielder’s glove and I did. They said, ‘get a few reps out there just in case,’” Swim recalled.
Acknowledging that he’s been out there every game lately, he added with a smile, “maybe (the Twins organization) gave me a position change and didn’t tell me, I don’t know.”
He’s not complaining.
“I’ll play anywhere,” he said. “I love throwing the ball and showing off the arm a little bit.”
That’s a healthy approach to have for a player in Swim’s position with the Twins organization.
Swim, Garver and the current catcher for the Class high-A Fort Myers Miracle, Stuart Turner, were all college catchers selected by the Twins in the same draft class a year ago. Turner was the Twins’ third round pick, Garver was picked in the 10th round and Swim in the 22nd.
The Twins also selected a high school catcher, Brian Navarreto, in the sixth round. Navarreto is currently with the Twins’ Elizabethton short-season rookie level affiliate.
As if that weren’t enough, the Twins drafted six more catchers in the 2014 draft, though none were higher than the 19th round and not all were inked by the Twins before the signing deadline on July 18.
Still, Swim recognizes that he’s up against some tough competition as he tries to work his way up the organizational ladder, not only from other recent draftees, but from players with more professional experience, such as his Cedar Rapids teammate Quesada.
“Obviously, I know who’s there,” Swim conceded. “But I think everyone is good in their own way. If you’re meant to keep going and playing, you’re going to get there.
“I try to make it where I can play different positions to help me out. If you need a right fielder, I’ll play right field. If you need a first baseman, I’ll do that. Whatever they need.”
In baseball, hitters can run hot and cold, but in his first month as a Kernel, Swim has definitely been hot with the bat.
“I feel pretty comfortable in the box and the ball does look a little bigger right now,” he admitted.
Fellow Kernels catcher Garver hit three home runs in one game on Monday, but Swim doesn’t expect to be putting on that kind of power display any time soon.
“Generally, with my swing, I’m not going to hit the ball out of the park or drive a bunch of balls in to gaps, so I just try to really stay up the middle and just stay short and sweet to the ball and just try to get on base.”
Swim worked out with the Class A group during most of spring training, but when the time came to head north to start the season, he was left behind in extended spring training.
That sort of thing can be disappointing to a player, of course, but Swim pointed out that there were some benefits, too, for a guy from Greensboro, North Carolina.
“It’s not that big of a deal when you’re playing in 85 degree weather in the spring down in Florida, so that was the good part,” he recalled with a bit of a laugh. “I was texting a few of the guys and they were saying it was 30 degrees and they had four layers on. I was, like, I’m in a pair of shorts and sandals right now.”
Swim had the opportunity to turn professional after his junior year of college when the St. Louis Cardinals made him there 36th round selection in the 2012 draft, but he opted to pass at the time.
“Right around draft time my junior year, mom was sick, was in the hospital,” Swim explained. “I really didn’t know how that was going to affect her as far as what was going to happen. I didn’t want to push it by leaving at that time, so I decided to forgo the draft, stay at home, work a little bit, try to help out around the house and get things situated.
“Honestly, I don’t have any regrets. I would do it the same way every time. She’s doing well right now. She’s getting healthy. She’s staying at home and listening to the games (over the internet).”
Away from the ballpark, Swim escapes the daily grind of the game with a good book.
“I like biographies and stuff like that,” he explained. “That kind of gets me away from the game and not thinking about anything really about baseball.”