The Atlanta Braves have been a busy team the past two seasons. While they began their rebuild last season getting rid of the old and bringing in some of the new, they really haven’t been able to reap the rewards of their work, the fruits of their labor if you would. Today it all begins.
Today, Dansby Swanson makes his big league debut. Sure, some of the names they traded for like Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins and Mike Foltynewicz have made their debuts and have had some nice stretches of good starts. But they were never the foundation of what the Braves were building. They were the complimentary pieces to a Braves farm system that has most of its talent deep within the minors.
Today is Dansby Swanson Day and today begins the New Braves Way of baseball.
The Braves true rebuild started with last season’s draft, when they snagged Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley and Patrick Weigel. The strides those four have made this season give a lot of hope that by 2018, the new SunTrust Park my be hopping with excitement. The Touki Toussaint deal a few weeks later -- on his 19th birthday -- is proving to be a steal, and although they got Max Fried earlier in the 2015 offseason, he didn't throw a single pitch in a Braves uniform until 2016. The Braves are just getting to see how exciting a pitcher he can be.
Then came the second of two steals the Braves orchestrated with the Diamondbacks, this one greater than the last. The Braves sent Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier to Arizona for Aaron Blair and Swanson, as well as outfielder Ender Inciarte. Swanson — under the new rules after the Trea Turner debacle — would become the first ever first overall draft pick traded within the same calendar year in which he was drafted. The Diamondbacks, in a win-now mentality, thought they got their No. 2 to their newly signed ace in Zack Greinke. It has been anything but out in the desert.
On the contrary, Swanson has been all that the Braves had hoped he could be. He began the season in High-A with the Carolina Mudcats and it proved too easy for him. He slashed .333/.441/.526 with 12 doubles and seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Most impressively he struck out 13 times and walked 15 times — an astounding 16 percent of the time — in his 93 plate appearances. By April 30th, Swanson was Mississippi bound.
Originally, when Swanson was promoted, so was Ozzie Albies. The organizations former top prospect headed to Triple-A at shortstop while the new No. 1 prospect in the system took over short in Mississippi. By July, they brought Albies back and shifted him to second base, and the two would work side by side in becoming the Braves future double-play combo.
Swanson’s numbers were a bit down compared to his hot start in Carolina, but he found his power stroke hitting 13 doubles and eight home runs in 377 plate appearances, showing that the power surge in his final season at Vanderbilt may in fact be for real. He didn’t look as patient at the plate, striking out nearly 19 percent of the time, seeing his walk rate drop to 9.3 percent, not a terrible number but certainly worth noting the fall off.
He is quick in the field and has a strong arm as well. The 22 year old has played solid defense in his brief professional career, committing just eight errors in 407 chances at Mississippi this season. His range factor is currently 4.81 and to put that into perspective, Francisco Lindor has a 4.44 RF and he is about as solid as they come defensively at short. How that translates on the big league level will be seen, but he seems to have the makeup and potential to be very successful.
Swanson has proven to be a top of the order hitter with a winning pedigree, both at Vanderbilt in the College World Series and last year in the Northwest League championship with the Hillsboro Hops. He has shown that he can work counts, get on base, steal some bases, and be a consistent top of the order bat. As this team continues to slowly transform, Swanson represents the possibilities, the new hope, and that’s what the Braves need.
It doesn’t matter that Swanson has hit successfully in seven of his last eight games (drawing two walks in the one game he went hitless). It doesn’t matter that you may feel that his OPS doesn’t quite translate to a big league promotion. What matters is that yesterday, Erick Aybar was traded to the Tigers and a mere few hours later, the Braves began their future by skipping Swanson right past Triple-A and to The Show. September call ups are not far down the road, and the real possibility of seeing Ozzie Albies joining him are not out of the question.
The Braves aren’t going to be contenders tomorrow because Swanson played today. Swanson may in fact struggle in his big league debut with little protection in the lineup and never seeing a Triple-A pitch. But what is exciting is that a top of the Braves lineup with Albies, Swanson, Freddie Freeman and the recently added Matt Kemp will certainly make the Braves a lot more fun than they have been the past two seasons. And today, we are that much closer to seeing it unfold.