Dansby Swanson will likely play a more integral role in the Braves’ lineup in 2017. After hitting eighth in the order for 101 of his 145 career plate appearances, the franchise’s top prospect and starting shortstop is being considered for the No. 2 spot in Brian Snitker’s lineup.
“I think Dansby can pretty much handle anything we throw at him after what I witnessed,” said Snitker, who is entering his first season as the organization’s full-time manager. “Just the person he is, the make-up, the confidence, just a player. That kid is a baseball player. And he jumped in there at the end. And we talked about (that) when we hit him eighth and that's tough for a young guy, but shoot, he adjusted, adapted. And he's asking all the right questions, too.”
A preseason National League Rookie of the Year favorite, Swanson helped round out one of baseball’s best second-half offenses last season. While the Braves eased him into his first major-league action, sitting him against the league’s best pitchers early on, Swanson posted a .302/.361/.442 slash line with three home runs and three steals — finishing as one of 10 rookies with a .360 on-base percentage (minimum 100 plate appearances).
That production followed the 22-year-old’s 2016 minor-league success at High-A Carolina (167 weighted runs created plus) and Double-A Mississippi (117 weighted runs created plus).
In his lone start in the 2-hole last season, Swanson hit a solo home run and walked against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Dansby’s a perfect 2-hole hitter because he can do so many things,” Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. “It’s a valid point: When do we think (he’s ready)? Are we comfortable? Is Dansby gonna play the 8-hole the rest of next year?
“He's going to have a learning curve next year, too. Don't think he won't. It's not gonna be perfect. And that's OK. But what he did in the two months that he was up here, he learned a lot. He experienced it. To (Snitker's) point, we all came away going, “Boy, this is guy is OK.'”
The Braves featured a revolving door in the No. 2 spot in 2016 — statistically deemed the spot to place a team's most balanced hitter — with Adonis Garcia, Ender Inciarte, Chase d’Arnaud, Gordon Beckham, Erick Aybar, Daniel Castro and Nick Markakis splitting time there.
Garcia’s 47 appearances behind the leadoff spot led the team, and he produced down the stretch: The 31-year-old third baseman posted approximately league average numbers (96 OPS+) by hitting .285/.318/.425 with six homers and 11 doubles. Over the course of 162 games, however, the Braves claimed the second-worst numbers in the 2-hole last season, ahead of only the Oakland A’s.
“It's something I will talk to the guys about and we will get a feel for it in spring training and see where we're at,” Snitker said of Swanson. “I feel right now — ask me today, yeah, I feel very comfortable about him there.”
Relying on rookies in the second spot is rare. Over the past five seasons, only four teams have handed 300 or more plate appearances to a first-year player there. Of those four instances, three hit above league average: Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager.
Seager and Harper won the N.L. Rookie of the Year in their respective seasons while Lindor finished second in the American League race in 2015.