Dansby Swanson made adjustments to his swing and approach that are still a work in progress, but Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer believes he will rebound from a disappointing rookie season.
Swanson was 5-for-27 (.185) with two home runs, three walks and six strikeouts in 10 Grapefruit League games before Monday night, for a .290 OBP. The shortstop was 1-for-15 in his past six games, the only hit a homer Saturday against the Pirates.
Seitzer said Swanson’s adjustments over the winter involved shortening his swing and trying to get away from pulling the up-and-in pitch as much as he did in college at Vanderbilt, where he was able to thrive with that approach.
“Big-league pitchers want to pitch in on guys for a purpose of getting them sped up, where they can exploit them with secondary stuff,” Seitzer said, “and then you end up missing your pitch that you should hammer, if you get a little pull-conscious.
“He’s got such a fundamentionally sound swing, that when he stays in the middle of the field gap-to-gap – everybody says he can’t hit sliders, but he can hit sliders, he can hit secondary stuff. It’s just a matter of not getting too sped up to where he wants to get to pitches in.”
Seitzer said that Swanson’s “hot zone” last year was pitches up and inside. “That’s where he did the most damage offensively, and that’s not a good place where you want to do damage there and not in other places out over the plate,” he said.
While he was able to pull that pitch, Swanson was susceptible to sliders because he wasn’t ready to react to pitches outside his hot zone.
“You’ve got to be able to make adjustments,” Seitzer said. “And it’s not that he’s up there being pull-conscious as much as he’s just ready to react in on pitches. Which is kind of the same thing -- even though it’s not in the forefront of your mind, in the back of your mind it does just as much damage as if it’s in the front of your mind.”
Swanson hit just .232 with six homers and a .636 OPS in 144 games (551 plate appearances) in 2017, his first full season in the majors. It was a major drop off from his seven-week call-up late in 2016, when he hit .302 with an .803 OPS in 145 plate appearances in his first stint in the majors.
Teams scouted him, developed a book on him like they do all hitters, then exploited the weaknesses. Now it’s up to Swanson to make necessary adjustments. He showed some improvement after being demoted to Triple-A in late July, batting .213 with a .599 OPS in 95 games before he got sent down and .268 with a .707 in 49 games after returning.
Now the Marietta native is trying to get his career back on the trajectory that had been expected after he reached the majors just 14 months after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the June 2015 draft and eight months after being traded to the Braves during the 2015 Winter Meetings.
Swanson isn’t on Braves billboards now, not like he was a year ago when he was the focus of the team’s advertising campaigns after less than two months in the big leagues. Now, he’s just a young player trying to get his career back on track, trying to make the adjustments that so many other young players have had to make but few have had to do under as much scrutiny.
“He’s working and doing everything you can do,” Seitzer said. “And I expect this kid to have a nice rebound year this year. Because I think he learned a lot about struggling last year. I think it was the first time in his life that he struggled, and that can be a real benefit for a kid, more than it can hurt, in my opinion. Because this game is so hard, being able to handle failure when you’re going through it, without pressing and trying harder – which, that’s what our job is.
“In the (batting) cage we try to keep them in a good frame of mind where they’re not pressing, they’re not trying to do more, and getting them back to where they do what they need to do in order to get it going.”
When it comes to Swanson making adjustments to his hitting approach, Seitzer is reminded of something that Royals hitting coach Hal McRae told him in 1987, when Seitzer hit .323 with an .869 OPS and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting to Mark McGwire.
“In one of the first conversations that (McRae) had with me, he said big-league pitchers ain’t good enough to paint you up three times over and over and over on that inside corner, so leave it alone. Give it to them,” Seitzer said. “And hunt your pitch out over the plate. I never forgot it, I carried it with me my whole career. There were stretches you go through two, three, four games where it felt like they were just dotting you up in there, but it never carried on. And as guys get more conscious in and pitchers are pounding them in, then you start to expand in-off the plate, and then you start to chase up and then a lot of vulnerability to secondary stuff.
“Last year (Swanson) had a lot of really good at-bats where he laid off those chase sliders. Did he swing at them at times? Yeah. But count the number of times he didn’t swing at it, not just the ones that he did. That’s an adjustment in his plan and his approach. Really, to be a good hitter here you’ve got to be stubborn and bull-headed about what you’re hunting and where you’re hunting. And when you get the mistake – you’re going to get a mistake, almost every at-bat you’re going to get one. The key is, don’t miss it.”