Dansby Swanson entered the final series of the season just 11 at-bats shy of losing his rookie status for 2017, but the Braves shortstop already shed the typical mistakes, mannerisms and demeanor of a rookie. That is, if he ever had them.
At 22 and with only 35 career games above the Double-A level, Swanson comports himself in many ways like an experienced big-leaguer. And, oh yeah, he was batting .300 (36-for-120) with 10 extra-base hits (three homers), 17 RBIs and a .795 OPS before Friday’s series opener against the Detroit Tigers.
“It’s been nothing but incredible, from what I’ve seen,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said recently of Swanson’s performance. “He’s doing it offensively and defensively.”
In his past 20 games before Friday, the Marietta native and former Vanderbilt standout hit .354 (23-for-65) with three homers, a .411 OBP and .585 slugging percentage, including a game-tying homer in the sixth inning of Thursday’s win against the Phillies. It was his first home run at Turner Field, where he used to watch games as a kid and marvel at how Chipper Jones seemed to hit a home run every time Swanson was in attendance.
Swanson scored the go-ahead run in the eighth after working a leadoff walk against closer Jeanmar Gomez and hustling home on Matt Kemp’s one-out, opposite-field double off the right-field wall.
“Whenever you can get on for Freddie and Kemp and (Nick) Markakis, you’ve got a pretty good chance to score,” Swanson said. “I was trying to do whatever I could to get on, and they did a great job of getting me in. With the guy sinking it like that, for Kemp to be able to hit something to right field like that is pretty dang impressive.”
What Swanson has done has been impressive in the view of Braves officials and teammates. And it goes beyond the strong offensive numbers, solid defense and several highlight-worthy plays near the back edge of the infield.
“I look out there during the game and he’s moving infielders and yelling at pitchers to cover the plate,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “I make pitching moves and he’s telling the pitcher who’s coming in what that runner’s doing and to keep an eye on him. Just all the game stuff that you don’t even see.
“He’s doing what a shortstop should do. He’s quarterbacking that infield already. And let him learn the league a little bit — it’s like I told T.P. (infield coach Terry Pendleton), you can leave that iPad upstairs once he learns the league, because he’ll take care of it for you.” Snitker laughed. “But yeah, he’s doing everything you want your shortstop to do.”
A player loses rookie status for the following season if he exceeds 130 at-bats. Swanson, who was brought up from Double-A Mississippi on Aug. 17, will likely reach 130 at-bats during Sunday’s series finale provided starts all three games against the Tigers. He was in the lineup Friday for the sixth consecutive time and 20th start in 21 games.
Maybe it’d be appropriate if he’s not considered a rookie in 2017, given that he’s not been playing like one. Swanson credits Braves veterans for helping ease his transition to the majors and show him the ropes, so to speak.
“The veterans have done a great job being able to keep me centered, keep me focused on what I need to be focused on,” he said. “And like I said, when you’re able to be around guys who’ve done this for a long time, who’ve been successful at this for a long time, you’re able to basically pick their brain and learn from them.
“They’ve been awesome to me, just to teach me, help me learn, help me stay balanced with everything. I listen and try to apply it as best I can.”
Snitker said Swanson himself should be commended for going about things the right way.
“He asks all the right questions and he’s always asking questions. He’s always looking for something. He and T.P. are always talking. That’s why we all wanted him up here, to experience this. And it’s been really, really good for him. When he gets to spring training he’s not going to be in awe of anything….
“Just how he’s carried himself, how he’s slowing the game down. He’s still learning; we all do. You have to figure this thing out. But it’s been really cool to watch.”