By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 105 G, 411 AB, .275 BA, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 13 SB, .787 OPS
2016 season (Majors): 38 G, 129 AB, .302 BA, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .803 OPS
When John Hart took over the reins as President of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves after the 2014 season, there wasn’t much to be excited about as a Braves fan both at the Major League level and in the Minors. Hart went to work and transformed the team in just two seasons, accelerating what looked to be a long and arduous rebuild with a number of big moves. The highlight? Trading their young ace Shelby Miller to Arizona for an incredible haul headlined by the No. 1 pick in the ‘15 Draft, shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Swanson played just 22 games in the Diamondbacks’ system before being shipped off, becoming the first No. 1 overall pick to be traded the year after he was drafted. That short stint in the Minors was impressive, too, as he had a .289/.394/.492 line with 11 of 24 hits going for extra bases.
After the trade, Swanson began his Braves career with an invite to Spring Training. He played well, but he was ticketed for the Minors no matter what as he entered his first full pro season. Listed as the No. 8 prospect in baseball by MLB.com entering the year, Swanson tore up Class A Advanced Carolina before bumping up to Double-A after only 21 games. He spent much of ‘16 with Mississippi, where he began to show off some power (eight homers) to go along with his speed and slick defensive skills. On Aug. 17, he vaulted straight from Double-A to Atlanta, where he made an immediate impact with two hits in his debut.
Swanson made the transition to the Majors look easy at the plate, slugging 11 extra-base hits in 28 games and continuing the great plate discipline he showed in the Minors with a .361 OBP. At shortstop, there were some struggles. Swanson committed six errors (three fielding, three throwing) and finished with a negative UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). Despite the issues, he did show off what scouts rate as plus range and a strong arm. He still projects as a shortstop defensively at the big league level and the Braves don’t have any plans to try to move him.
Swanson is off to a hot start in Spring Training (7-for-16 in his first six games) and on track to start at shortstop on Opening Day. Swanson has found himself all over the lineup this spring; hitting lead-off, second and near the bottom of the order. Given his lack of experience, the Braves may start him low in the lineup, but with his high average and on-base ability he could quickly find himself No. 2 in between Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman.
Projections on Fangraphs are on the low end average-wise, which is fair considering he has just 165 games of professional baseball. Steamer, Depth Charts and ZiPS projections all have him hitting under .260 but have his OBP over .320 with a strong BB% (walk percentage) around nine percent. Given his plate discipline and contact rate, Swanson should continue to find success at the plate. The team’s No. 1 prospect is ready to help lead the Braves into their next generation this season.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.