Dansby Swanson is now a Major League baseball player. Swanson was called up by the Braves on Tuesday night and made his debut yesterday after the Braves sent Erick Aybar to the Tigers. Thus ended Swanson’s short, 14-month journey from Vanderbilt to Atlanta.
Swanson was selected first overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2015 Rule IV draft. This selection came after a stellar career at SEC powerhouse Vanderbilt. His stock rose considerably in his sophomore campaign at Vanderbilt where he posted a .333/.411/.475 slash along with 3 home runs and 22 stolen bases at the second base position. He was a huge contributor to Vanderbilt’s national championship squad that year. He entered his junior season as a name bandied about as a possible top pick in the draft, but there was significant uncertainty in how he’d handle the move to shortstop. But Swanson passed that test with flying colors and continued to progress with the bat.
He triple-slashed .335/.423/.623 in Vanderbilt’s runner-up campaign and did so despite a BABIP drop from .389 to .364. Swanson also added more power to his game with 15 home runs, all at little expense to his speed − he still stole 16 bases. On top of all this, he displayed an advanced approach at the plate, with a 13 percent walk rate and a 16 percent strikeout rate. And just to put a cherry on top, this was in the SEC, which isn’t known for its inflated stat lines. As a result, Swanson was selected first overall in 2015, and signed with the Diamondbacks for a hefty $6.5 million dollar bonus.
After signing and some time at Salt River Fields, he reported to the Diamondbacks’ low-A squad, the Hillsboro Hops. In 22 games, Swanson thrived, posting a .399 wOBA and 145 wRC+ with a BABIP sitting at a reasonable .333. He did so in a small sample of only 99 plate appearances, due largely to a facial injury, but it definitely was an encouraging start to his professional career for Dave Stewart and the Diamondbacks organization.
Then the Diamondbacks swung a big offseason trade after signing Zack Greinke. The Diamondbacks swapped Swanson, along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier. The trade was lambasted at the time and was seen as a huge win for Braves’ GM John Coppolella, who just loves trading with Dave Stewart. That sentiment continues to linger as all three of the pieces acquired by the Braves in this deal will now have spent time in the big leagues this season. While Aaron Blair struggled mightily, Shelby Miller brought back the return of an ace, and he isn’t even in the major leagues anymore.
Since joining the Braves organization, Swanson has fared well. Entering this season, he was listed as the #17 prospect by Baseball America, #27 by Baseball Prospectus, and #8 by MLB.com. He started his year in high-A and, in 21 games and 93 plate appearances, knocked the cover off the ball with a .433 wOBA and 166 wRC+. He continued to display a keen approach at the plate, with an excellent 16 percent walk rate and 14 percent strikeout rate. His success prompted a promotion to AA in May. Swanson hasn’t lit the world on fire quite as much with his bat in AA. Since then, he has posted a .345 wOBA and 116 wRC+ with dips in both his strikeout and walk rate. Obviously, when you drop from a .391 BABIP to .309, some wrinkles will appear. That said, Swanson’s bat still played well at his position and at a level where he’s about two years younger than his average opponent. Confidence in him hasn’t fallen either, as he rose to #7 and #10 on BA and BP’s respective midseason lists.
There’s a fair share of legitimate question marks about his hit tool being ready. Christopher Crawford mentioned in BP’s rundown of his callup that there’s been a spate of weak contact recently, and that gives people a bit of pause when considering the readiness of his bat. Despite that, he’s still boasting a 60 future hit tool grade by most accounts, like Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs. Each of those reports boasts about the simplicity of his swing and the strong wrists to go along with it. However, Longenhagen is very low on the usage of his lower half, stating that his “footwork is minimalistic and plain.” This raises questions about his ability to hit for better-than-average power in the long run without major mechanical changes. He may struggle out of the gate with the bat, but with his simple swing, strong approach, opportunity to see big league pitching, and the benefits of a big league development staff, it’s hard not to be hopeful.
One of the biggest points to be run home about Dansby Swanson in any report on him will be his glove. Swanson, despite moving to shortstop a short time ago, boasts a very strong, ready glove at shortstop. It’s probably the biggest reason for his promotion. Chris Crawford noted that he’s “undoubtedly ready to contribute defensively right now.” Longenhagen went even further to say that, “his defensive footwork is exceptional, aided by a freakish foot-to-ground contact ratio befitting an NFL corner.”
From a value perspective, having a strong glove at shortstop puts a player in a position where they have a very high floor to work from. Essentially, due to defensive value and the position adjustment, there’s a very low offensive bar to clear in order to be considered valuable. An excellent defensive shortstop who hits well is therefore incredibly valuable – just ask Brandon Crawford. Obviously, a comparison to the best defensive shortstop in baseball is premature. However, this can help take the pressure off Swanson’s bat if there are a few growing pains there. He might not struggle to the extent that Crawford did, but it will still allow the Braves to give him ample time to adjust.
Swanson also boasts another floor-lifting skill in his plus running ability. He’s always had the ability to stretch base hits and steal bags. In college, as stated before, Swanson put up two double digit steal seasons, despite never being the most explosive athlete. Chris Crawford states that his speed and instincts are similar to what you see in players who “steal 20-plus bases.”
Calling up Swanson is a sign of things to come for the Braves. In many of their recent trades, the Braves have prioritized proximity to the big leagues. In the past year, they’ve acquired a bevy of prospects who appear likely to be ready sooner rather than later, including Sean Newcomb, Rio Ruiz, Aaron Blair, Max Fried, and, of course, Dansby Swanson. Along with prospects like Ozzie Albies and Lucas Sims, who have been Braves since they entered pro ball, the Braves have a imminent good future, with a quality stable of young talent on the verge of the big leagues. Obviously, the Braves have a lot of holes to fill even with those players, but there’s a very real chance for improvement in Atlanta in the near future.
Swanson’s overall profile as a guy with a plus hit tool, plus defense and plus run all at shortstop leaves little question as to why he’s so highly touted. In him, Braves fans may have the cornerstone player that their franchise needs so desperately to carry them into competing again.
Anthony Rescan is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.