Questioned by some at the time, the Atlanta Braves’ decision to call up Dansby Swanson in the middle of August looks like the right move.
On the surface it might seem like the Atlanta Braves haven’t had much to play for during the 2016 season. They started the season 9-20 and never even sniffed playoff contention. Still, this season has not been wasted. Freddie Freeman looks like a budding MVP candidate as he taps into more power.
The acquisition of Matt Kemp has added a power bat to their outfield. Ender Inciarte has wowed fans with his stellar defensive play in center field, his base-running and his recently hot bat. They also have an assortment of young pitchers getting valuable innings that will help their development.
The organization has an eye on 2017 (when SunTrust Park opens) and their play during the second half the season can help set them up for success. Another player gaining valuable experience this season is new starting shortstop Dansby Swanson.
After an illustrious career at Vanderbilt, Swanson was the number-one overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2015 MLB Draft. The Braves acquired Swanson this past winter, along with the aforementioned Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair, from the Diamondbacks for Shelby Miller.
Swanson began the season as Atlanta’s top prospect and their most prized building block. Still, the idea that he would make his debut during the 2016 season wasn’t a certainty. Given Atlanta’s early struggles it seemed even less likely they would call up Swanson. Why bring him up when there’s nothing meaningful to play for?
On August 17 the Braves defied that logic by calling up Swanson to be their starting shortstop. There was some thought that it was silly to start Swanson’s service time clock so early when the Braves had one of the worst records in baseball, but the move was mostly viewed as a positive step forward for the organization. It was a popular move in Atlanta, exciting fans and teammates.
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The concerns were warranted, but one month later it looks like Atlanta’s decision to call-up Swanson was a smart one. Swanson has been fantastic as Brave, batting .314/.363/.422 with two homers in 114 plate appearances. His defense at shortstop looks like a work in progress (he’s made six errors), but he’s mostly been solid defensively.
It’s an extremely small sample size, yet it still is encouraging to see him have success so quickly.
"“I mean, he’s one of those guys who raises his game. He’s had good at-bats. Really good at-bats. That was the whole idea of why we wanted him here. Go through this experience now, get to spring training and he’s not going to be in awe of anything. He’s going to be ready to go after experiencing this. He’s going to know what to expect.“He’s going to go into spring training aware of the speed of the game, the competition. It’ll be a little jump-start on all these guys he’ll face next year, too. So it’s all been good.”"
That “jump-start” Snitker mentioned is why bringing up Swanson this season, rather than Opening Day 2017, is so important. Baseball prospects aren’t like batteries. You can’t just plug them in and expect them to start working immediately. It takes time to develop. If the Braves expect to compete next season they’ll need production from Swanson. Getting Swanson big league at-bats this season is setting him up for success in 2017.
At some point next season Swanson is going to struggle. He’s going to hit a bump in the road like all young ballplayers do. But, when that happens he will have this track record of success to fall back on and remind him that he can perform at the big league level.
It’s impossible to measure how important that is on a player-to-player basis. The Braves will take any advantage they can get. They still have something to play for in 2016 and they recognize that.
Swanson is already a fan favorite in Atlanta and he figures to be a huge part of any success the team has during this new era of Braves baseball.