Sep 6, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (2) dives home to score an inside the park home run against the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves saw SS Dansby Swanson make a big splash in his big league debut in 2016. What’s in store for 2017 and beyond?
The Atlanta Braves acquired Swanson in trade before the 2016 season from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Swanson was originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 38th round of the 2012 draft out of high school in Marietta, Georgia, but he instead chose to attend Vanderbilt University.
After a storied career with Vanderbilt that included a College World Series title, Swanson was selected as the #1 overall selection in the 2015 draft by the Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks sent Swanson to their short-season A-ball team in the Northwest League, where he showed that the leap past two rookie leagues was not beyond him at all, hitting .289/.394/.482 with a 14/14 BB/K ratio over 22 games.
Swanson received plenty of notice over the offseason in prospect lists, ranking as the #17 prospect in the game by Baseball America, #8 by MLB.com, and #27 by Baseball Prospectus.
After a very exciting spring training where he and fellow infield prospect Ozzie Albies worked together frequently to tantalize fans, Swanson was assigned to high-A Carolina, but he was not a Mudcat for long, moving to AA after just 93 plate appearances and a .967 OPS.
With AA Mississippi, Swanson worked through two prolonged slumps at the plate, but he never let it show on the field, bringing consistent effort throughout. Even then, he still posted a .342 OBP and was among the minor league leaders in doubles when he was called up to the major leagues.
In the minor leagues, he totaled .275/.362/.426 between the two levels with 9 home runs and 13 steals along with a 50/84 BB/K ratio over 470 plate appearances.
Swanson then played 38 games with Atlanta, hitting .302/.361/.442 with 3 home runs and 3 steals, posting a 13/34 BB/K ratio over 145 plate appearances.
Swanson is listed at 6’1 and 190 pounds, and those numbers look right. He’s a right-handed hitter and thrower.
Contact (60) – Swanson has a very smooth right handed swing, often working outside-in with his swing.
I was very impressed with his ability to go with pitches and put solid wood on pitches, even at the big league level.
He has excellent bat speed and a very pure path through the zone that may not produce a lot of loft right now, but it drives line drives all over the place.
Power (50) – Swanson does pound the gaps with balls right now, but anyone who saw him in Mississippi knows that there’s power there. That stadium sucks the life out of power, yet Swanson was able to knock out 8 home runs in just 84 games.
That said, his best swing does not lead to big loft and follow through, so he’s likely not going to be a 30-homer sort of guy, but I would wager he’ll be a guy who puts up double-digit home runs annually and posts a few years of 20+ over his career.
Eye (60) – This is a borderline 65 as Swanson does have a very solid idea of the strike zone, but he was pushed hard through the minor leagues into the major leagues, and one thing that is notable is that he still is building recognition on big league caliber movement on pitches.
With excellent movement, Swanson can be found to struggle a bit with going after pitches outside of the zone or giving up on pitches that end up in the zone. That said, that is not surprising with his level of experience with upper-level and major league pitching. He’s made solid adjustments as he’s seen more and more quality, and I have every confidence that he’ll be a guy who can exceed this number rather than one who makes me look optimistic.
Speed (55) – Swanson’s initial burst speed would probably be a sub-50. What’s crazy is that he has such ability to get himself from that first step to top speed due to his instincts of having his body all in motion ahead of needing to be in motion that he has been graded as high as a 65 speed.
It would not surprise me whatsoever to see Swanson put up a few 25+ steal season in his career as he has very, very solid instincts on the bases and reads pitchers very well.
However, what is most impressive of Swanson’s speed is his ability to truly change direction quickly. I watched him force a throw in to second due to how hard he turned around first, allowing Ozzie Albies to throw on a long single while the two were in Mississippi together.
He also really has a good feel for when to go first to third on his own, getting good angle on his running so he sees where the defense is in relation to where he is on the bases.
Defense (60) – Swanson may not have that elite speed that typically portends elite range, but he has what guys like Jeter and Cal Ripken had at the position – an innate feel for what is just about to happen.
I was blown away in center field views on games to watch a pitcher go into his motion and notice Swanson take a step or two or just shade his body one direction. I honestly do not recall a single time when the ball did not find him correct in his leanings. There were times the batter did not make contact, but when they did, he was in perfect position.
That sort of instinct will allow him to cover for perhaps a lack of speed as he ages as well, allowing him to stay at short for an extended time.
Swanson brings very sure hands to the position, and he is exceptional on the double play and covering stolen bases, likely due to his experience in college playing second base helping with his comfort level around the bag.
Arm (55) – This is another area that if you graded Swanson based on his pure arm strength, maybe a 50 is as high as you could go.
However, he somehow almost always ends up with shoulders square to the base he’s throwing to and makes an incredible amount of accurate throws from all sorts of angles that most shortstops try to over-arm throws and end up with errors.
His arm accuracy and the maturity to know when to throw and when to pocket the ball gets him the extra bump here for me, but there are some who give him a full grade tick due to the way he sets himself and get the maximum of his arm strength on every throw rather than having poor footwork lead to getting 70% on most throws and flashing a plus-plus arm on just 30%, for instance.
MLB Player Comp
There’s a reason the Derek Jeter comps have come for Dansby. This is not saying that Swanson is Jeter, mind you, but these are some interesting factoids.
In Jeter’s first full season in the minors: .295/.376/.394/.770, 14 2B, 11 3B, 5 HR, 18 SB, 58/95 BB/K
In Swanson’s first full season in the minors: .275/.362/.426/.787, 25 2B, 5 3B, 9 HR, 13 SB, 50/84 BB/K
In Jeter’s first full major league season: .314/.370/.430/.800, 25 2B, 6 3B, 10 HR, 14 SB, 48/102 BB/K
Swanson’s 2016 MLB time, extrapolated to 650 plate appearances (Jeter had 654 in 1996): .302/.361/.442/.803, 31 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 13 SB, 58/152 BB/K
The other crazy thing – Jeter committed 22 errors in 1996. Swanson committed 6 in his time in Atlanta. Extrapolate that out, and, you guessed it, he’d make 22 errors.
Now, the big thing here is not that Swanson and Jeter have perfectly equal backgrounds, as Jeter was a high school draftee who played that first full minor league season at 19 for half of the season. Swanson was a college draftee who was 22 all season last year. However, Jeter’s major league debut came at age – you guessed it – 22.
The big thing that makes me draw the Jeter comparison with Swanson is the way they carry themselves on the field.
As much as I wanted to dislike Jeter during his playing career, one of the things I always admired about him is that he absolutely commanded the field he was on, quarterbacking the team from his position.
Swanson so naturally does exactly that. I was struck in his first week after being promoted to Mississippi when he took the ball after a strikeout and walked the entire infield to the mound after a couple of balls were kicked around by the infield. It was as natural as if he’d been there from opening day. He then did something similar within his first week at the big league level.
There is also the tremendous innate instinct for the game that’s just not measurable that Swanson has and Jeter had as well. Both knew/know when to be in a weird positioning, as indicated by a play in Mississippi where he tracked to a spot that ended up being perfect to intercept Connor Lien‘s attempted throw home, wheel and nail the trail runner at third in time to get the third out before the lead runner got home.
When you hear the Jeter comp so frequently, it does begin to sound lazy and “easy” to just pile on that same comp, but if you do the digging, there’s significant legitimacy to that comparison.
Dansby will be opening in Atlanta in 2017, and he will be fun to watch for Atlanta Braves fans for years to come.
His overall grade numbers may not impress some, and people probably will honestly wonder what the hype is after he finishes his first season with likely solid AVG/OBP numbers, but probably some mediocre slugging numbers and no big fantasy numbers.
This is a player whose worth isn’t in the stats you can use in fantasy leagues or on the back of a baseball card. He’s got that “it” that just is found in a few guys in the game at any one time, and Braves fans should be happy that one of those guys is on their team!