Can't call Dansby Swanson a bust but odds are he's no star

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson is headed back to the minors. (

Credit: Michael Cunningham

Credit: Michael Cunningham

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson is headed back to the minors. (

Dansby Swanson is headed to Triple-A, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bust. You can make a list of good (or going-to-be-good) major leaguers who struggled early in their careers and then went back down to the minors to work things out. Mike Trout is among them.

Yet there's an even longer list of top prospects who never lived up to their billing. That includes several of Swanson's fellow No. 1 overall draft picks. Historically speaking, there's a much better chance than not that Swanson won't be a star or even a solid everyday player over a long time. Baseball is hard.

Swanson has only 362 plate appearances this season and 507 overall. That's not even a full season. But Sabermetrician Russell Carleton has determined that there does come a point at which certain stats "stabilize" and give an indication of true talent level. (Chart via Charlie Adams of Beyond the Boxscore.)

It’s not all bad for Swanson. He doesn’t swing at a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and doesn’t produce a lot of “soft” contact. Swanson’s strikeout percentage has ticked up a bit lately, but still isn’t terrible for a young player, and he walks at a decent rate. He probably has been unlucky on balls he puts in play.

But Swanson's problems are obvious. He struggles to hit sliders , especially on the outside part of the plate. Too many of Swanson's hard-hit balls are grounders. Swanson seemed to curtail his early tendency to try to make too many spectacular plays in the field, but he's been inconsistent.

In some ways, it was Swanson’s bad luck to have such good luck during his call-up last season. Many Braves backers saw the good stats (.302 BA, .361 OBP) during that stint and anticipated that he would be an instant star. They didn’t focus so much on the small sample size (145 plate appearances) or that Swanson was unusually fortunate with results on balls he put in play.

Now Swanson is headed to Triple-A for the first time. He was benched earlier this month with the emergence of Johan Camargo and the return of injured veterans in the infield. He continued to struggle during his occasional appearances, and the Braves finally sent him down to sort things out.

You can find fault with how the Braves handled Swanson, on both the baseball and business sides.

There was the team’s marketing push with Swanson last year before he even made it to the majors, an effort that increased exponentially this season. There was the decision to call Swanson up after he had just 569 plate appearances in the minors, including 377 above A-ball. There was manager Brian Snitker’s decision to bat Swanson No. 2 to begin this season, which only increased the pressure on the rookie.

Some may also blame the Braves for not sending Swanson down once Snitker decided not to play him every day. But I think they kept him around until they sorted their infield situation out, with Sean Rodriguez returning, Freddie Freeman switching positions and Brandon Phillips on the trade block. Now they know that they can leave Swanson at Gwinnett for a spell.

My impression was that Swanson was a bit shaken by his struggles this season. He's talked about how he felt as if he was doing things right and still not getting results, and how that never really happened to him before. That’s got to be a shock to the system for a top prospect.

Maybe Swanson will figure things out down on the farm and come back to the Braves a better player. Or maybe he will just never make the necessary adjustments to live up to his reputation as a prospect. That happens a lot. Baseball is hard.

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