Scouting Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves Cornerstone

Just fourteen months after having been selected first overall in the draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dansby Swanson is making his Major League debut for the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. While Swanson doesn’t have a robust collection of plus tools and won’t be setting the National League ablaze with top-of-the scale speed or monster raw power, his skillset is air tight with nothing¬†but the smallest of nits to pick. Combined with his¬†ability to play most valuable of position in baseball, Swanson should provide All Star-level value for the Braves.

Of course, Dansby Swanson was an Arizona Diamondback not that long ago. His stay with Arizona was brief but eventful. Swanson was drafted first overall, signed for $6.5 million and was hit in the face by a pitch from human Monkey’s Paw, Yoan Lopez, during a sim game on the Salt River backfields that kept him out of game action until mid-August of last year. Swanson suited up for just 22 games as a member of the Diamondbacks organization before headlining the offseason’s Shelby Miller blockbuster.

Say what you will about that trade, the Diamondbacks at least got that pick right. Though he was beaten to the big leagues by other members of his draft class, Swanson was and remains a better bet to play shortstop long-term than Alex Bregman does, Carson Fulmer continues to look like a reliever and teams didn’t have as long of a scouting history with Andrew Benintendi as they did with Swanson. He had already put himself into conversation as a potential top selection for the 2015 draft during his sophomore year at Vanderbilt in 2014 when the Commodores won the National Title.

Though he was playing mostly second base in deference to Vince Conde, it was clear he had the skills to kick over to the left side of the infield and play a viable short. Those views were cemented during Swanson’s junior season while hit also hit .335/.423/.623 (a .148 uptick over what he SLG’d as a soph), hit 15 homers in 71 games and successfully stole 16 bases in 18 attempts. And all of that against mostly SEC opponents.

Swanson’s scouting report reads very much like it did a year ago. He’s a plus runner with terrific instincts on the bases and enough range for SS. His defensive footwork is exceptional, aided by a freaskish foot-to-ground contact ratio befitting an NFL corner. He has an above average arm and I think he’ll be a plus defender at short despite lacking the explosiveness and acrobatics typically associated with that kind of glove at short because he’s so technically proficient.

Offensively, Swanson’s footwork is minimalistic and plain, so much so that Rachel Leigh Cook studied it for her part in She’s All That. Without much of a stride and explosion coming from his lower half, Swanson’s power comes almost exclusively from his hands and bat speed, which can only do so much on their own. While he has average raw power, Swanson only projects to hit for 45-grade game power unless we see substantial mechanical changes. There were some concerns about Swanson swinging and missing a bit while he was at Vanderbilt but he’s been more apt to bend and flex his front leg as a pro which has allowed him to get to balls in the bottom of the zone more often than he did in college when he was more upright. I think he’s a future plus hitter.

One caveat for those of you who are thinking about hopping on Swanson for the stretch run of your fantasy season: Beware of fatigue. While some of this might be counterbalanced by September’s annual talent dilution, keep in mind that Swanson has played 105 games this season, easily the most of his career. He played 71 at Vanderbilt last year and 22 more at Low-A but those pro appearances came after a lengthy rest due to a broken face. Since Swanson has passed that 71 game threshold this season, he’s hitting .252.

Swanson’s performance has been underwhelming enough that I got some questions on Twitter about whether or not I thought Swanson even deserved this promotion. One could argue it is not, but because of the opportunity presented to Atlanta in the Erick Aybar/Kade Scivique deal and the hole it cleared at short for the big club, I think it’s defensible despite Swanson’s struggles. Scenarios like this, in which a prospect is circumstantially promoted, are what makes it hard to provide answers to those, “When will Prospect X make his Major League debut?” questions with any sort of accuracy.

Hit: 45/60, Raw Power: 50/50, Game Power: 40/45, Run: 60/60, Field: 50/60, Arm: 55/55, FV: 60

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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I seriously don’t understand the Atlanta Front office here. Swanson has performed admirably at the AA level. But has done nothing to merit completely skipping AAA and jumping straight to the majors. He is a prospect that you could clearly argue would benefit from an additional year of development in the minors. And any value he adds to the Atlanta team this year is worthless. All the Braves have done is rush this young prospect’s development, potentially to his detriment, while simultaneously starting his major league clock a full year before they should have.