He was the No. 1 draftee in June 2015. Five months and one day later, he was the centerpiece of what was hailed as the slickest trade of the 21st Century. Nine months after that, he was in the majors. His face was featured on billboards in the county of his birth, meaning Cobb, before he’d registered his 40th big-league hit. Apart from a brief demotion in July 2017, he has been the Atlanta Braves’ starting shortstop for more than three years, and he’s 25.
He’s Dansby Swanson, and he’s obviously not bad. But how good is he?
We stipulate that he hasn’t yet played an uninterrupted major-league season. He arrived in August 2016. He was sent to Gwinnett – to make room for Johan Camargo at short, Matt Adams at first and Freddie Freeman (!!!) at third – the next summer. He hurt his wrist last September and missed the postseason. He just lost a month a sore foot.
This season has had its bright times: Swanson hit five homers with 22 RBIs and an OPS of .860 in March/April; he had an OPS of .894 in June. For a while, he was among the National League leaders in RBIs.
His second-half numbers: 30 games, no home runs, six RBIs, a batting average of .183, an OPS of .544. Granted, that second half was interrupted by injury. That said ...
The player Arizona made the 1-1 pick in June 2015 has been a big-league starter for more than three years, and he has a career WAR (wins above replacement) of 4.1 The player taken second in that draft was infielder Alex Bregman; his WAR is 20.1. It’s 7.6 this year. Bregman has become the best player among the gifted Astros.
No, the Braves didn’t have a choice between Swanson and Bregman; that was the Diamondbacks’ call. And John Coppolella did turn Shelby Miller, a pitcher who has become a cautionary tale, into All-Star outfielder Ender Inciarte and a everyday shortstop. But the scout who warned, back in April 2017, that Swanson was essentially Jeff Blauser – a solid shortstop but not a star – might have overshot. Over his first two full seasons, Blauser had a WAR of 5.0.
And now you’re saying: What about defense? Isn’t Swanson a top-shelf glove man? According to the numbers, no. He’s 18th among MLB shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating; he’s tied for 10th in Defensive Runs Saved. His defensive WAR rating is 0.6.
We say yet again: He’s 25, and he has been unlucky with injuries. Swanson has proved he can hold a job as the shortstop – a key position – on a first-place team. He’s not the worst thing about the Braves. He’s not the best, either. He’s just OK.
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