To say that Dansby Swanson looks like a different player since returning from a Triple-A demotion wouldn’t be accurate. What he’s looked like is something closely resembling the player he was for most of his entire life outside of the weeks this season when the Braves rookie shortstop struggled like never before and let it affect him outwardly.
“Lot more confidence, that’s the biggest thing,” Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said Sunday morning, before Swanson had two hits including a triple and a walk in four plate appearances during an 8-1 win against the Reds.
“Swing’s no different, but he’s just got some of his swagger back. That was the big missing ingredient, for me. He was doing great, grinding, then in the last few weeks before the (All-Star) break he was starting to press and he just needed some confidence.”
Swanson hit .119 (7-for-59) with six walks, 22 strikeouts, a .200 on-base percentage and .386 OPS in his last 21 games before being optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on July 26. The Marietta native spent two weeks in Triple-A and was recalled sooner than expected after a knee injury sidelined rookie Johan Camargo, who had started half of the last 18 games at shortstop before Swanson was sent down and every game between then and Camargo’s injury.
Since returning from Triple-A, Swanson has looked a lot more like the prized prospect who hit .302 with a .361 OBP in 38 major league games in his first big-league call-up a year ago.
He went 0-for-8 with no strikeouts and plenty of hard-hit balls in his first two games back from Triple-A, and in his past nine games Swanson is 11-for-29 (.379) with three doubles, two triples, six walks, six strikeouts and a .486 OBP and 1.106 OPS.
Swanson said there was no great epiphany or adjustment in his approach that got him back on track. It was more a remembering what got him here to begin with and believing in that again, which had never been a problem before his extended slumps early this season.
“Probably the basic thing is just believing what I’m doing,” he said. “When you just start to look at, like, finally being able to reflect on what do I do well and how can I do that more often? Like, your swing is your swing, your natural ability is your natural ability, so why not let what you do best work? And so that’s just kind of being at peace knowing that and just believing and understanding what I can do and just doing that. It’s pretty simple.”
Seitzer agreed that Swanson hasn’t done anything drastic to his swing – because he didn’t need to.
“It’s the same swing,” the veteran hitting coach said. “We’ve analyzed video up one side and down the other and there was nothing different in his swing. His swing’s fine. He’s got a very fundamentally sound swing and good hands and good approach, but when a hitter starts pressing it can get tough.”
Asked how much of it was mental compared to physical, Swanson smiled.
“What is it they say, baseball is 10 percent physical and the rest is mental or whatever?” he said. “So yeah, it’s a combination of both because whether you feel good or bad that day, physically you may not feel that great but mentally if you’re engaged you’ve got a chance.”
Seitzer said, “I think it was just being in a more relaxed environment than here and having good at-bats. He wasn’t raking (at Triple-A) by any stretch but when he came back you could see there was a different swagger to him.”
Much was made of Swanson’s struggles against the slider – he was a majors-worst 4-for-44 before he got sent down – but Seitzer said there was no big flaw in the young hitter’s swing or approach that made him particularly susceptible to that pitch for the long term. It’s just part of the inevitable learning process that awaits even the best prospects when they get to the major leagues and after opposing teams have a chance to develop a “book” on their strengths and weaknesses.
From there, the best players make their own adjustment to counter those made by opponents. It’s a learning process and doesn’t usually happen nearly as fast as fans and other outside observers want or expect it to.
“For me it was, he doesn’t have a problem hitting sliders, but getting used to hitting big-league sliders is a whole different deal than any (other) place you could ever play,” Seitzer said. “Hitters have to get experience at hitting secondary stuff at this level because it’s so nasty and the command is so much better. And it’s swinging at strikes and the ones that look like strikes out of the hand, that’s the strike-to-ball pitch, or ball-to-strike pitch, that hitters have to deal with and learn how to recognize, then you’ve got a split second on when to go.
“But as you get more experience and you get used to seeing the break and how they’re pitching you…. He’s doing fine. He’s having good at-bats. Really good at-bats. He’s got the old confidence that he had before.”
Braves coaches and team officials had all agreed that Swanson in his last few weeks before his July demotion had begun to let his struggles affect him and that was the point where they all agreed the decision to send him down needed to be done for the player’s own good. He looked defeated in those last couple of weeks and didn’t have the same I-belong-here look to him in the plate or even in the field.
“Yeah, I saw the same thing,” Seitzer said. “Success breeds confidence and as long as you’re having confidence when you go to the plate, even when you’re not getting the results – which he did for a good part of three months. He’s a tough kid mentally and there wasn’t the snapping and the pouting and the sulking. He brought a good attitude every day. But you could tell he really started to grind those last couple of weeks. So it was a good blow for him, a good reset as I’ve heard (it expressed) lately.”