Dansby Swanson was built up to be the next hometown star of the Atlanta Braves. The day he made it to the big leagues, with six weeks left in the 2016 season, Swanson was featured on TV promos and billboards.
Swanson originally showed why the attention was warranted. He hit .302 with a .361 on base percentage, three home runs, 17 RBI in 129 at bats. Then when the Braves moved their home field to Cobb County, just miles from Swanson’s home, the expectations got out of control.
Swanson was supposed to be the next great thing, the next Jeff Francoeur, the next Jason Heyward. Those were two other local kids who came back home to play with the Braves with much fanfare, only to be more ordinary than we’d like to admit.
To call Swanson’s 2017 season ordinary may be kind. In his first full season, Swanson hit only .232 with a .324 OBP, six home runs and 51 RBI in 488 at bats. Those numbers were nothing like his impressive debut the summer before.
There’s no reason to panic. Swanson just turned 24 years old last week. He’s still young. He still has the talent that everyone raved about when he was acquired from the Diamondbacks. He still has a skill set that fits this Atlanta team.
Sometimes we need to remember that not all players hit the ground running day one and are what they are going to be in the big leagues. Some require more time than others to improve. Some must fail before they can learn how to be what they are going to become.
We’re still not sure what Swanson will be in the majors. When he was acquired, analysts threw around comparisons to Derek Jeter, which likely wasn’t very fair. Comps are what we all like to do in sports, but that one was likely a tad premature.
He may instead be another Jeff Blauser, or maybe Jay Bell. Swanson might be better than those two or maybe worse. It’s just too early to tell.
What a rebuild such as the Braves are going through allows you to do is to take time in evaluating a young player like Swanson. While last year presented red flags, things that Swanson himself could tell you he must improve, he’s still only 24. He’s only a few years removed from college.
And even though Swanson was the top pick in the draft, it doesn’t mean he was going to be a finished product from day one. He might simply need more time than we first thought.
Swanson must improve his defense. New general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said defense will matter to the Braves, so if Swanson doesn’t improve there that might be his poison.
Plus, there’s someone behind Swanson that could push for playing time. Right now, Johan Camargo is slated for third base, but he’s a natural shortstop and is a tremendous defensive player. And so far, Camargo has showed he’s possibly a better hitter than Swanson.
Maybe having someone also wanting his position will challenge Swanson. The one thing we can’t do is give up on Swanson just yet. This kid does have talent. He does have skills. But it is time to see consistency in his game.
It took Freddie Freeman several years to become what he is today. We knew Freeman was likely going to get better as he got more experience. That’s the goal with Swanson, who will wipe away the struggles of his first full season and just try and start over.
Swanson is a big part of Atlanta’s rebuilding process, and like’s we’re ready to see progress with the big picture, it’s time for Swanson to show us something as well.
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