The subject was Dansby Swanson and whether top Braves officials believed he was ready to hit second in his first full season in the majors in 2017. This was last week in general manager John Coppolella’s suite at the Winter Meetings near Washington, D.C., after manager Brian Snitker said earlier that day there was a good chance he’d bat Swanson second. The rookie shortstop hit mostly eighth for seven weeks during his initial call-up.
“I’m gonna leave that up to Brian,” said Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, seated next to Coppolella in front of several Atlanta reporters in a casual interview in the GM’s suite. “We’re not sending down lineups (to the manager). We brought (Swanson) up for really two reasons: One, we thought he could handle all that. And second, that when he did mistakes, he’d be able to handle that as well, and it would lessen the learning curve for next year. He’s going to have a learning curve for next year, too, don’t think he won’t. It’s not going to be perfect, and that’s okay.
“What he did in the two months that he was up here -- he learned a lot. He experienced it. And to Snit’s point, I think we call came away going, boy, this guy is okay. He makes a mistake, he going to own it. He’ll think about it and probably won’t make the same one again. You’re seeing him assert and be more confident. He’s just wired that way.”
Swanson, 22, was called up from Double-A on Aug. 17, just 14 months after being the No. 1 selection in the June 2015 draft, by an Arizona team that surely rues trading him to the Braves along with Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair in exchange for Shelby Miller at the 2015 Winter Meetings.
Swanson lived up to the hype as the former Marietta High School and Vanderbilt University start hit .302 for Atlanta with 11 extra-base hits (three home runs), a .361 on-base percentage and .442 slugging percentage in 145 plate appearances over 38 games.
Teams that inquired about the availability of Swanson in particularly big trade proposals – i.e., Chris Sale – at or before the Winter Meetings quickly learned the shortstop was unavailable. He’s as close to untouchable as any Brave right now. So I asked Hart if people around baseball understand why Swanson is off-limits in trades, since his statistics are strong but nothing jumps off the page.
I asked this not because I didn’t understand – believe me, I do; I probably wouldn’t trade Swanson for anyone this side of Mike Trout – but because occasionally I’d get a response from another write or from a fan wondering if Swanson was really untouchable and if so, why?
“Yeah, they do,” Hart said of other teams’ officials grasping why the Braves are so committed to keeping Swanson. “And we talked about this -- if you want to put the grades out there he’s not going to be the guy that you’re looking to hit 30 homers. He’s not that ‘loud tool’ guy, where he’s going to steal 60 bases, hit 30 homers. He’s not that guy. But the people that know – he’s a shortstop, makes the plays, handles the bat, does every little thing to help you win a game. Does something to help you win a game all the time. And I think – I know – baseball people realize what a special kind of a team guy he’s going to be. Those guys are hard to find.
“I mean, I had Omar Vizquel for years. Loved him. And he was always in the shadow of A-Rod because (Alex Rodriguez) hit 40. And (Nomar) Garciaparra, and all those guys. But Dansby’s got the same kind of qualities. Omar was a gifted offensive player, but (beyond that) he’s one of those guys that you just go, man, he just makes your team better, makes your clubhouse better. To answer your question, everybody I talk to says, ‘Boy, I love your shortstop (Swanson). I love the way this guy plays.’ The guys got some qualities that remind me of some really good players. Great leaders.”
Coppolella then got into the conversation: “Yeah, and just to John’s points, I don’t think you can put any playables or comparisons on him, I just know we’re better with him, and the whole is greater than the parts. This is a special guy that makes people around him better. He’s in the right spot, he gets the big hit at the right time. And he’s somebody that you feel good when you see him there in the lineup at shortstop. He’s just somebody we’re real fortunate to have. And we hope that he’s here for a very long time.”
Hart added, “The other thing, too, for people who don’t get it: You look up and Braves, after all these years of success, had to step back and rebuild. And all of a sudden you look up and you have a chance to a acquire a shortstop who grew up 10 minutes away from a brand-new ballpark (SunTrust Park, opening in 2017). Hometown guy, on top of all the other things that you look at. It’s not like we’re in Seattle and this kid is from Georgia, or Minnesota. Guy’s the hometown kid. I mean, Minnesota, once they signed Joe Mauer (to a long contract) when he was a second-year player, you go, c’mon, it’s hard to (get hometown guys like this), that’s part of the equation.”
Coppolella said, “For me, the thing with Dansby is, winner. This guy won in college, came up and he’s 24-18 up here, we finished strong. This guy just finds a way to win.”
I mentioned to Hart that Swanson also seemed like the kind of guy a team would never have to worry about doing the wrong thing, on or off the field. “Ever,” Hart said in agreement. “Ever. He’s a guy. (For Hart, saying a player is “a guy” is praise.) He’ll keep growing and growing. He’s special. He’s a special guy. He’s authentic. We’re happy to have him. Coppy’s right – we’re happy to have him.”
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