Dansby Swanson has been hyped up since he was leading Vanderbilt to a National Championship as a sophomore. He was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondback in 2015 and traded to the Atlanta Braves less than a year later as part of the blockbuster Shelby Miller trade that also sent star center fielder Ender Inciarte to the Braves. Swanson was unquestionably the centerpiece of the deal, however, and Braves fans have taken every opportunity to further hype up the young shortstop since the trade. As a Braves fan myself I think it’s time to be realistic about what to actually expect from Dansby Swanson.
Swanson’s most common pro comparison is Yankees legend Derek Jeter. Let that sink in for a moment. Dansby has played less than half of a full season in the majors and is gleefully being compared to a legendary player who compiled nearly 3500 hits and a career 115 OPS+ over a hall of fame career that spanned 20 years, 5 Gold Gloves, and 14 All Star Game appearances. Some think the comparison is reasonable because Jerek was also a highly lauded young shortstop without any standout tools but who was above average at every aspect of his game, but Dansby hasn’t even come close to proving that sort of ability yet. Jeter was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year at 22. Dansby is entering his age 22 season as the third or fourth favorite for the award behind other young prospects with serious flaws in their game like Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow.
The lack of a standout tool hasn’t prevented other players (like Jeter) from having successful and sometimes exceptional major league careers, but the hype surrounding Swanson following his rookie year that left him just two at-bats short of losing his rookie status is built on some astounding luck at the plate in 2016. Swanson posted an eye-popping .383 BABIP in 2016 and struck out at a much, much higher rate than he ever did in the minors or in college (23.4%). The BABIP is 100% certain to regress going forward and Swanson showed no signs of improving his strikeout issues as the season went on. At best, Dansby’s offense is going to be league average for a shortstop and his status as an everyday player will be buoyed by the only “great” aspect of his game; his defense. A glove can only provide so much value, however, as Braves fans know all too well. We’ve dealt with similar players in recent years, who were exceptional defensively but provided little to no production at the plate. Among the list of notables who fit these criteria are Dansby’s predecessor at shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, and hometown-kid turned Cardinal turned Cub Jason Heyward, who batted just .083 in the playoffs for the World Champions on the north side of Chicago.
We enter the 2017 season counting on Dansby Swanson to be the centerpiece of another Braves dynasty, but it’s just not going to happen. Dansby is a great hometown kid with an electric personality and a good glove and arm, but that’s not enough to catapult one of the worst teams in baseball back to contention. Braves fans would be better off focusing on the electric Ender Inciarte as the future superstar on the team, as he’s shown a lot more in his three major league seasons than we’re ever likely to see from our prematurely anointed savior from the Atlanta suburbs.