Austin Riley has done the cannonball in the pool of public acclaim since his parole from Gwinnett. And Ronald Acuna is every kiddie’s fav.
But today let’s consider a real blast from the past, that old soul Dansby Swanson, all of 25. He was the first of this wave of young Braves to create a big noise when he came along in 2016, but had since been giving ground to all the other next-gen players coming along, both every-day and of the pitching variety.
It was a lovely Sunday at the ballpark, and while Riley pushed the pause button on his two-week-old Hall of Fame push, Swanson was doing what he has been doing this past month or so: Serving notice that maybe he can be a consistently effective player with a bat in his hand.
Sunday was a perfect time for reflection and maybe even a smidgen of reappraisal. Because with day baseball, you just see things more clearly.
Like, hmmm, just maybe could this Swanson be a 25- to 30-home run, 100-RBI shortstop, which would pretty much make him everything the Braves marketing department hoped he would be, and then some? It might even get him back up on a billboard again sometime before he greys at the temples. (Oh, it will happen, Dansby. It will happen).
On that prodigious home run total — far beyond anything he has yet displayed in the majors — Freddie Freeman, an expert in the field, preaches caution.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. That would be nice,” Freeman said. “We’ll see. First year coming back off wrist surgery, you never know what’s going to happen. We all believe he’s a great player. Once he puts together a whole, full, healthy season, then we’ll see if 25-30 (is possible).”
Triple-digit RBI total? Definitely a possibility. “I’m a big RBI guy. That’s the money-maker, that’s getting hits in big situations. And he’s been huge for us this year,” Freeman said.
Swanson was the headliner in Sunday’s 7-4 victory over Detroit. With his 12th home run of the season, and a fifth-inning double, he drove in the first three Braves runs. And then scored the fourth run, streaking from first to home on Freeman’s double.
He has one more home run this season than the gifted, but slumping Acuna (and only two fewer than his brief-career high, and here it’s only the beginning of June). And his OPS — .815 to Acuna’s .820 — is almost identical. He has more RBI than anyone on the team, regardless of age (42 through 59 games). He has hit over .306 the last couple weeks. He has looked like a No. 1 overall pick, which he was.
He’s not exactly as hot as the guy taken immediately after him in that 2016 draft, Houston’s Alex Bregman, he of 17 home runs and 39 RBI entering Sunday. But Swanson’s not that far off.
It’s the power component, along with some demonstrably clutch hitting, that has really distinguished Swanson’s first few months. Hitting second in the lineup, he has been a great fallback for when Acuna has struggled at lead-off. It had been said of Swanson that the Braves could well afford him to hit around .260 if he could continue providing good defense (a sloppy error Sunday notwithstanding). They can really live with that average — he’s at .264 now — if he keeps pumping out home runs at anywhere near this pace.
It was bench coach Walt Weiss who handled the manager’s press conference Sunday after Brian Snitker took sick. A good guy to speak on Swanson, being a former shortstop himself, although one who never hit more than eight home runs in a season.
“Dansby’s been outstanding, he’s really come along as an offensive player,” Weiss said. “He’s always had the instincts. Guys with instincts like Dansby, and the baseball IQ, they get better and better because they make adjustments.
“That’s what we’re seeing with him on the offensive end. He’s been a very, very good shortstop all along but he’s had a heck of a year, had some bit hits for us, the power’s coming. Dansby’s in a really good place.”
As for the power, Weiss said, “The ball’s jumping off his bat. It’s different than it’s been. In the past he’s juiced some balls on the inner half. But now you’re seeing juiced balls to right now and the big part of the field — left-center.”
Asked if was becoming seduced by the long-ball, Swanson first was amused by the questioner’s choice of verb. And then he was assuredly unimpressed by the home run total.
“Never cared about it before and not going to start now,” he said.
He credits nothing dramatic for the pulse of power.
“Just working on the consistency and finding what works for me each and every day. With so many at-bats, you look at the big picture and try to put yourself in position to succeed more often than not. That’s the mentality I’ve been trying to take every day, something I’ve been working on the most. That’s allowed me to perform consistently this year.”
That, and a healthy wrist helps, too.
“It’s been awesome to see,” Freeman said. “It’s a whole new person. When you’ve got confidence in your health, that’s all you need.”
In the clear daylight of Sunday, it was there for all to see: Don’t forget this rebuild’s original new hope, the one who started all this fuss.
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