2019 is a pivotal year for the Braves, yet only three notable moves were made in McCann, Markakis, and Donaldson. Meanwhile, the rest of East went on a spending spree buying the likes of Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, and Edwin Diaz among others. General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, bet on his young talent, putting the reputation of the aptly-named Baby Braves, who shocked the baseball world last season, to the test.
And no Brave has more to prove than one of the most significant trade pieces from the rebuild: 2015 #1 draft pick Dansby Swanson
The golden-armed and golden-haired shortstop was highly anticipated coming to the Braves, along with Inciarte, at the end of 2015 and impressed right when he got to the big leagues. Going 2 for 4 in your debut and hitting an inside-the-park homer as your first big league bomb tend to make a person a hot commodity, after all. He finished with a .302 average, three homers, 17 RBI’s and a 115 OPS+ in his first 38 games as a pro so, yeah, he was a big deal; and a massive support beam the Braves were leaning on, heading towards the end of the rebuild.
Sadly, since his impressive September call-up slash line, the support beam in Swanson has begun to splinter. Swanson had a rough go of it to start his first full season, batting .185 through May and, while he found his stride briefly, never entirely picked it back up, finishing the 2017 season only doubling his 2016 stats…again, which took just 38 games. The pressure of the big leagues affected him, and he needed a readjustment.
Swanson improved his swing over the 2017 offseason and gained some well-needed confidence, entering 2018 ready to crush. It started off looking like his year, slashing .287 with three homers and a .766 OPS in the first month of the season…then things took a, what had become a characteristic, turn. He slipped back into old habits, hitting .229 with a .671 OPS from May to August. By mid-August, Swanson had begun to get his power back, but then the injuries took hold. After an unfortunate at-bat against Thor went south, Swanson was diagnosed with a torn ligament, further splintering the support beam that is, or was, Dansby.
But hey, the past is the past, right? We’re less than a week from the first game at SunTrust Park (It may be a Spring Training game, but it still counts), and The Other Culberson is healthy again after recovering from wrist surgery. He feels good, he’s hitting the ball HARD, he’s sporting a .278 average in Spring training, and he says he is ready to go.
Let’s play the hypothetical game. Let’s say Swanson stays in the same rhythm that he’s been in this spring. What could his stats look like without injury or pressure? This is only an opinion, but it could very well look something like this (side-by-side with a few other experts):
THIS AUTHOR’S PROJECTIONS:
142 G, .273 BA, .383 OBP, 72 R, 20 HR, 67 RBI, 19 SB
148 G, .246 AVG, .315 OBP, 58 R, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 12 SB
120 G, .239 AVG, .309 OBP, .239 AVG, 60 R, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 8 SB
Now, I like to look further than the combined stats coupled with the competition at hand. I like to look at the potential, promise and raw talent that we have all very well seen (and are seeing now during Spring Training). I have faith that Swanson, when 100% healthy, can start having the illustrious career that fits the bill of a former #1 overall pick.