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Baseball: Swihart, Bregman riding positive tracks

Alex Bregman, right, throws to first as Houston Astros star Carlos Correa looks on this past summer, shortly after Bregman signed with the Astros. Bregman, an Albuquerque Academy alumnus, is going to major league camp next month with the Astros. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

Alex Bregman, right, throws to first as Houston Astros star Carlos Correa looks on this past summer, shortly after Bregman signed with the Astros. Bregman, an Albuquerque Academy alumnus, is going to major league camp next month with the Astros. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

2015 was a year of firsts for Blake Swihart and Alex Bregman.

Swihart, a Cleveland High School product, made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox on May 2.

Bregman, an Albuquerque Academy alum who played at LSU, made his professional baseball debut June 26 after being selected with the second overall pick of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros on June 8.

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Swihart was the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Red Sox. He spent four years in the minors, climbing up the prospects rankings before an injury to Boston’s starting catcher Ryan Hanigan got him a promotion to the majors.

In his MLB debut, Swihart got an infield single against the Yankees for his first big-league hit, walked and scored a run.

Cleveland High graduate Blake Swihart made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox in 2015. He’s seen here during a four-hit game against Seattle on Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Cleveland High graduate Blake Swihart made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox in 2015. He’s seen here during a four-hit game against Seattle on Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

“That was pretty cool. I knew the rivalry,” Swihart said. “And getting my first big-league hit out of the way early kind of took some pressure off. That was special and I’ll always remember it.”

After that memorable debut, Swihart struggled, hitting .241 with a home run and 11 RBIs in his first 133 at-bats. But after the All-Star Break, Swihart turned it around to the tune of a .303 batting average, four home runs and 20 RBIs in his last 155 at-bats.

“It was fun. It was a big learning experience,” Swihart said. “I was so worried about getting on the same page with the pitching staff, I think after the All-Star break I really clicked with all of them and was able to gain their trust and respect, and I was able to settle down more and focus.”

Bregman was also a Boston Red Sox draft pick (a 29th round selection in 2012) but he delayed his professional aspirations to play for the LSU Tigers. After a stellar three-year career, he was picked second by the Astros in June.

Bregman began his pro career at Class-A Quad Cities in Iowa where he hit .259 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 29 games. He then was promoted to Class-A Advanced Lancaster in California and hit .319 with three homers and 21 RBIs in the final 37 games.

“It’s been a crazy six months,” Bregman said. “I’ve had a blast with it. I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I can apply to my game. It’s been so much fun getting to live out my dream and working towards getting to the next level and then the next level and then the next.”

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Bregman also got a different taste of professional baseball when 2015 No. 1 overall pick and friend Dansby Swanson was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Braves in December.

“That was crazy. It definitely shocked me,” Bregman said. “That’s the game of baseball – it’s a business. Teams are trying to win and will do whatever it takes to win.”

Both Bregman and Swihart will begin 2016 at Major League spring training camps but with different circumstances.

Swihart is the most likely candidate to be the starting catcher for Boston next season. Bregman is most likely just getting a look at the big league camp and is a longshot to make the Astros’ opening-day roster.

Despite their different situations, both players have similar thoughts and goals concerning spring training.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” Bregman said. “I’m just going to go there, work my butt off and get ready to go for the season.”

Said Swihart: “I’m just going to go in there with the mindset that I’m out there to win a job. I have to make the biggest impression that I can. We’ll see what happens.”

Regardless what does happen next spring, Bregman and Swihart will be able look back fondly on 2015.

“That’s always the goal, is to try to end your season at the next level,” Swihart said. “Luckily, I had the opportunity to play in the big leagues this year.”

Bregman added: “It was a good first year, I’ll tell you that right now. Towards the end of the year I kind of found a groove and I’m hoping to build on that next season.”

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