On June 8, 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks used the first overall draft pick to select Vanderbilt University shortstop and 2014 College World Series Most Outstanding Player Dansby Swanson. One of three Commodores selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft, Swanson spent little time in the Arizona organization before the Diamondbacks sent him, along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair, to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller in the consensus worst (for Arizona) trade of the offseason and one of the most lopsided in recent memory.
For his part, Swanson was happy with the trade. A Marietta native, he considered his move a homecoming. After appearing in 105 minor-league games this year, the Braves called him up to the big club, and he made his MLB debut last night in a home game against the Twins.
Just three years older than Turner Field, Swanson’s first MLB appearance came in the soon-to-be-demolished park where he watched baseball games as a child. When he came to the plate in the second inning for his first big-league plate appearance, wearing a batting helmet reminiscent of Jason Heyward’s (Swanson was hit in the face with a pitch in his first onfield practice with the Diamondbacks), the rookie received a warm ovation from the home crowd. (Then again, so did Matt Kemp, so who knows with these fans.)
A lineout ended the inning and meant that Swanson would have to wait for his first major-league hit. It came soon enough, though, when he singled in his next plate appearance. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Swanson singled again, capping a very solid two-for-four night. His glove was quiet on defense, where, somehow, not a single Minnesota hit went toward his position at shortstop.
Some Braves fans criticized the team for the timing of the decision to call Swanson up to the majors. Atlanta has the worst record in baseball, so it is not as though they’re looking to Swanson for a spark in a playoff race right now, and promoting him starts his major-league service time clock ticking toward free agency. These critical fans apparently wish the Braves had kept Swanson in the minors in order to forestall his free-agency eligibility, much as the Chicago Cubs did last year with their young star, Kris Bryant.
Even though the Braves, like Cubs in recent seasons, are undergoing a team rebuild (albeit one initiated for dubious reasons), they have shown a desire to present some semblance of a marketable lineup during these self-inflicted fallow years. The retention of Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman and acquisition of Kemp and Nick Markakis are evidence of this desire, as is the promotion of Swanson.
If the Braves want to manipulate the service time of their star prospect in an effort to keep him affordable and under team control in their anticipated return to competitive status, they still have plenty of time to do that. Scouts don’t regard Swanson, at this time, as major-league ready in the same way they did Bryant in early 2015. In my opinion, the Braves have little to lose and much to gain by acclimating Swanson to big-league action at this stage in his career. Expectations should be tempered for his performance the remainder of this season, which will be the longest of his life (and full-season fatigue is a real thing for young players), but this could be a developmental investment that pays off for the team when Swanson really is ready to be the Braves’ everyday shortstop in a year or two.
An added bonus is that Swanson likely will be on the field for Vanderbilt Alumni Night this Saturday, which is about as exciting as things get at Turner Field these days (although the Braves apparently double booked the evening as Auburn Night as well, which was thoughtful of them).