Name: Dansby Swanson
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 190
When it comes to the Major League Baseball draft, there is typically nothing safer than a proven college bat. College hitters tend to go quickly in draft for that same reason. This year’s class is one of the weakest in recent memory in terms of college hitting prospects. One has to go back to the 2010 draft where the top three college bats were Christian Colon, Michael Choice and Yasmani Grandal to find a class this weak at the top in terms of college position players. (One could argue that Bryce Harper was a college bat that year because he was in junior college, but since he was high school-aged and at the JUCO level, I don’t think he counts.)
I do like this class a lot better than that 2010 group, but when the draft finally does occur I think it will have one more thing in common with the 2010 group: it will more than likely mark the first time since that year that the first college bat selected is a shortstop.
Dansby Swanson – despite of having a name that makes him sound like an aristocrat – is a legit shortstop. He is what people were expecting that Trea Tuner would be a year ago, and despite a down junior year, Turner still went 13th overall in a much better class. Swanson is a shortstop that has plus speed and gets on base. He is a future leadoff hitter for a team, and possibly more.
Swanson was the second baseman for Vanderbilt until this season. He was stuck behind Vincente Conde, who went in the 9th round to the Yankees last year. Swanson switched to short without any issue and no one doubts his ability to stay there. On top of being a proven, safe hitter with positional value, Swanson is exceeding expectations when many other draft prospects are struggling to meet them.
Swanson has more homeruns this year than in his last two years combined. He was at a rate of one homerun per 94 at-bats; now it’s up to every 25 at-bats. Swanson had managed 27 doubles as a sophomore and while some of those where no doubt thanks to his plus speed, it also showed some possible power growth. The ball jumps off his bat and I think he has a chance to develop slightly below average to average power in the big leagues.
The most common word used to describe Swanson is smart. He makes the right reads at short. He has a good eye and is able to work a count and get on-base. This year he is walking more than he strikes out. He just seems to do everything right on the baseball field.
There is a lot of value in a shortstop that gets on-base and has some pop, along with being an above-average defender. Only one shortstop managed to have an on-base percentage of .340 or greater last year. That player was Hanley Ramirez, who is being moved off short in part because he was a subpar defender last year. There is currently not a shortstop in the majors doing what Swanson projects to do, even if he ends up with a .330 on-base percentage with 30 stolen bases and 20 doubles, which could be viewed as a little conservative with his upside. Jose Reyes was just a little shy of those numbers but that is the only current major leaguer who can approach that statline.
The Reyes comparison seems obvious, and I have used it before. While Swanson is fast, he is not quite Reyes-fast. I think a better comparison would be Rafael Furcal, a guy who during his prime was good for 30-plus doubles, double-digit homeruns, an on-base percentage around .350, and 30-plus stolen bases. He was also an above-average shortstop defensively during his time. Furcal was over-shadowed because of the rise of the offensive shortstop during his era. Furcal in his prime would have been a top-five shortstop last year.
Swanson might not have the hit tool of fellow college draft prospect Ian Happ (Cincinnati). Yet Swanson’s ability as a defender at a premium position should help push him up the board. Positional value will push him up and should make him the first college bat taken. Swanson is arguably the safest bat in this draft, as well. This is not something to be overlooked in a draft that has so much volatility among its top players.