After a stellar debut in 2016, expectations were through the roof for Dansby Swanson. The 23-year-old shortstop was, of course, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft and Swanson crashed the party late last season to the tune of a 107 wRC+ and above-average defensive performance at a premium position. That combination led many to pick the former Vanderbilt shortstop as the NL Rookie of the Year but the bandwagon has quickly emptied in that regard.
In short, Swanson is struggling. The talented rookie sits in a tie with Emilio Bonifacio for the worst fWAR on the Atlanta Braves roster (-0.4) at this point and there have been whispers about his play. It probably did not help perception that manager Brian Snitker recently moved Swanson from the No. 2 spot in the lineup (inexplicably replacing him with a sub-standard option in Adonis Garcia) to the No. 8 position, even amid the veil of “protecting” the young asset. Still, a closer look indicates that panic is not warranted just yet.
Swanson’s surface-level numbers are not encouraging. He sports an ugly .139/.162/.194 slash line over 74 plate appearances (18 games) and that is good for a -6 wRC+. That is clearly not going to work moving forward and his strikeout rate (25.7 percent) dwarfs his minuscule walk rate (2.7 percent) is concerning fashion. Swanson walked at a 9 percent clip last season, leaving many to wonder why his patience and approach have altered but, given small sample, it isn’t time to light the world on fire. Moreover, it is probably a point of concern that could be alleviated in a hurry.
Beyond the troubling strikeout-to-walk ratio, Swanson has certainly been unlucky at this stage. On one hand, his hard-hit rate (according to FanGraphs) sits at only 26.4 percent and that would qualify as a below-average figure. However, that number isn’t so gross as to suggest that Swanson’s obscenely low current BABIP (.173) is anything approaching sustainable and there are signs of life in the form of an exit velocity (via MLB StatCast) of 89.59 miles per hour. That number sits above the league average of 87.61 MPH and the “eye test” indicates that Swanson has been quite unfortunate on a a number of occasions with batted balls.
More than anything, judging or, in this case, overreacting to 18 games and 74 plate appearances is always a perilous thing. There is something to be said for a young player like Swanson “pressing” in an attempt to live up to the hype and that is a theory floated by folks closer to the team. Still, it is more likely that he will quietly snap out of the funk in the very near future and the returns on his defense continue to be quite positive at a position in which that is extremely vital for long-term sustained success.
It is fair to question Swanson’s ultimate ceiling as a hitter, especially given his relative lack of explosive home-run power. What isn’t fair, though, is to think he should be defined by the first 18 games of the 2017 MLB season. While many understand that concept immediately, there is, as always, an element of “too much hype!” and “he isn’t that good!” that creeps in to certain parts of Braves Country. Sometimes, it is good to be reminded that Dansby Swanson was playing college baseball 24 months ago and that he has stepped into a Major League batter’s box on only 219 occasions.
Give it time.