The Situation: Shelby Miller has an ERA north of 7 and is currently pitching in Reno. The guy the Diamondbacks traded Miller for, Dansby Swanson, is coming up to play shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. Whoops.
Background: Swanson wasn’t a household name coming out of Marietta High School in Georgia, and his strong commitment to Vanderbilt saw him slide to the 38th round of the 2012 draft, where he (obviously) didn’t sign. He didn’t play much his freshman season, but after earning the starting job at second base as as sophomore, he quickly established himself as one of the best players in the SEC. He made a seamless transition to shortstop the following year, and he went from being a potential top-10 pick to the overwhelming favorite to be the first-overall pick, which is exactly where Arizona took him. After a strong season in the Northwest League, Swanson was inexplicably dealt to Atlanta that winter in the Miller deal. After dominating at HIgh-A Carolina, Swanson more than held his own at Double-A Mississippi; earning a spot in the 2016 Futures Game, and now a trip to Atlanta to finish the 2016 season.
Scouting Report: If you find beauty in the simple things, you will very much enjoy Swanson’s swing. It’s very quiet with little to no wasted movement, and it stays—and gets through—the hitting zone with minimal effort. He can afford to do this because of how strong his wrists are, and the above-average bat speed allows him make hard contact all over the field. He’s a smart, selective hitter, and while he will never be among the league leaders in walks, he’ll draw his fair share. There’s enough strength and leverage here to project some power, but the swing is conducive to hitting line drives, so expecting more than 45-grade pop is expecting too much. He does help compensate for the “lack” of pop with the ability to steal bases, as he possesses the kind of speed and instincts you see in guys who steal 20-plus bases.
Swanson is still relatively new to shortstop, but you’d never know it watching him. He’s a plus runner, and his instincts are excellent, so he’s able to get to pretty much anything hit to either side. He also charges the ball well, and his above-average arm is accurate with a quick release. Is he Francisco Lindor? No. Is he a better defender than Alex Bregman and Brendan Rodgers? You betcha.
Immediate Big-League Future: Swanson is undoubtedly ready to contribute defensively right now. As much as I am a fan of his offensive skillset, however, I do think there are reasons to be hesitant about saying he’s ready to contribute offensively. There’s been a lot of weak contact since his promotion to the Southern League, and there are still some adjustments being made in terms of pitch recognition, it appears. That’s not uncommon or really something to be concerned about long-term—the guy has been a professional baseball player for a year, for crying out loud —but don’t be surprised if there are some growing pains. All that being said, this is one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and the ceiling and floor are both extremely high for Swanson. Get excited, Cobb County —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: I recently went into some depth on Swanson’s 70-grade coiffure, and if you play in a league with a hair category this is the guy on whom to drop all of your remaining FAAB. If you’re not as lucky, and your league is more “traditional” (read: boring), then things are slightly less clear. Swanson is a prototypical sum-of-his-parts fantasy prospect who lacks an impact tool, though the speed has the potential to push into that range if it plays to full utility. He has to date performed pretty well in line with the high-floor tag that he wore on draft day, holding his own most recently with solid if unspectacular production in 84 games at Double-A.
This is an aggressive push to the majors for a player who has logged less than 600 professional plate appearances, however. His power output has dipped against more advanced pitching, with a .377 slugging percentage since the beginning of June. His swing is quick and direct, with very solid barrel skills and the ability to post batting averages north of .280 down the line. The stroke is limited in leverage, however, and while he’ll be likely capable of driving double-digit home runs out of the yard at his peak, that kind of over-the-fence pop is unlikely to manifest out of the gate. Expecting anything more than a couple dingers in a six-week trial run to close the year is probably expecting too much.
That puts a good bit of pressure on the hit tool to play right away, and that’s a tall order for any 22-year-old. It’s also an open question as to how much he’ll actually run if and when he does reach base; he’s been an efficient base-stealer when he’s made his moves, but he’s attempted just four thieveries in the past ten weeks. The Braves have been a middle-of-the-road team in terms of aggressiveness on the bases, but there’s some uncertainty here about just how much fantasy owners can realistically bank on seeing Swanson run as he adjusts to big league moves.
As Chris detailed, the talent here is obviously the kind that you bet on long term, and it shouldn’t surprise any fantasy player if Swanson comes up and rakes. That possibility makes him worth an aggressive FAAB investment at this stage of the season, as we’re running out of potentially impact prospects to wait on. That goes double for OBP leagues and points formats, where his doubles power will play. Just don’t expect a savior down the stretch. —Wilson Karaman
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