Swanson, an Cobb County native, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt. The disastrously desperate Diamondbacks traded him to the rebuilding Braves less than a year later in a package for veteran starter Shelby Miller.
Immediately, Swanson became a key figure for the Braves’ future. He was under immense pressure even before he debuted as a local product and top pick. He was promoted in 2016, experiencing ups and downs during his first few seasons that left some underwhelmed.
“It’s amazing where he’s come from,” Braves and NL All-Star manager Brian Snitker said. “When Dansby burst onto the scene, everybody wanted him to be a 10-year veteran, and he’d just got there. Now you’re seeing him as he’s gotten established, figuring his game out. He’s one of the mentally toughest players I’ve been around. And I think because of that, he’s allowed himself to get to this status now.”
Last season was Swanson’s breakout. He showed how potent he can be when he smacked 27 home runs – a franchise record for shortstops – and continued to dazzle with his defense. Most important to him, the Braves won the World Series in November. A month later, he and Pugh, 24, announced their engagement.
This season has been Swanson’s best on the field. He’s hit .294/.353/.481 with 15 homers, 20 doubles, 53 RBIs and 60 runs scored while playing in each of the Braves’ 94 games. He’s also stolen 14 bases. His miserable start – hitting .172 while striking out 45% of the time over his first 17 games – feels like years ago.
Swanson is the Braves’ first All-Star shortstop since Edgar Renteria in 2006. He also joined Chipper Jones and Bob Horner as No. 1 overall picks to become All-Stars with the Braves. Since 1990, there have been three players drafted No. 1 overall who became All-Star shortstops: Alex Rodriguez (1993 draft), Carlos Correa (2012) and Swanson.
“It’s a huge honor,” Swanson said. “There have been so many great folks who’ve done this before me, it’s just such an honor to represent the same thing as them. Hopefully that will inspire some kids, like how I grew up watching (players in the All-Star game).”
Swanson’s contract looms in the background of his phenomenal season. He’s on track to become a free agent this winter, which means he picked the perfect time for his production to explode. Entering the season, questions persisted whether the Braves should commit to him long term. Now, the question is how much it will cost to retain him.
Swanson ranks second among NL shortstops in homers. He leads MLB in runs scored and ranks second in hits and slugging behind the Dodgers’ Trea Turner, whose contract also expires after this season. Other potential free-agent shortstops include Xander Bogaerts and Correa.
While his career resume falls short of the other shortstops, Swanson offers further upside. He’s shown what he looks like when he puts it together, and it’s spectacular. Swanson is a terrific defender whose bat ranks among the more powerful at his position. His intangibles also are off the charts, as anyone associated with the Braves would tell you.
“I’ve learned so much from (Swanson), and my whole major-league career, he’s been to the left of me,” Braves All-Star third baseman Austin Riley said. “He’s amazing. He’s having an unbelievable career year, and I’m happy he’s here.”
“Dansby, man, I love Dansby so much,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, a long-time Brave and close friend of Swanson’s. “The way he set the franchise record for home runs last year, then followed it up this year with what he’s doing, he’s a winner. He’s always been a winner. Winners put themselves in the right situations. The way he carries himself day in and day out, everything that he’s getting and receiving the last couple years is well-deserved.”
Before business resumes, Swanson will enjoy time with his teammates, Pugh and their families at his first All-Star extravaganza.
“We’re loving every minute of it,” he said. “So thankful (Pugh has) gotten a little time off to be here with me. It’s such a unique situation, our relationship and the scheduling that goes into it. We’re so blessed to be here and have our family here. My parents, her parents, just being here together is pretty special.”