This needed to happen. Dansby Swanson had gone from the Face of the Franchise to the Atlanta Braves’ sixth infielder, an arc that benefited neither team nor player. At least until Johan Camargo cools or Brandon Phillips gets traded or the need to fit Sean Rodriguez/Matt Adams in the starting lineup abates, Swanson needs to be somewhere he can play every day. That place is Gwinnett.
Last August/September, Swanson seemed as good as advertised, which meant no worse than very good. He hit .302 with an OPS of .832 in 32 big-league games. He’d made the majors barely 13 months after being drafted No. 1 overall, and there seemed no way he’d ever leave. Baseball is funny, though. A major talent has spent this season looking, if not quite overmatched, then at least out of sorts.
We’ll never know if that was because the Braves (a.) rushed him or (b.) hyped him to the heavens. We’ll never know if this would have happened in Year 2 if he’d been a modest prospect with less distinctive hair. But it has happened, and the Braves, finally, have acknowledged the obvious.
Swanson got two hits in Arizona on Wednesday, the Diamondbacks having been the organization that drafted and then dealt him. That was about the only good thing that had happened to Swanson in … what, two months? When you have a young player who’s not playing well, you face a difficult choice: How will he sort himself out if you don’t trust him enough to play him?
To be fair, a series of strange things had happened. Freddie Freeman’s wrist was broken, leading to the acquisition of Matt Adams, who spent a month making like Babe Ruth. (Slight exaggeration.) Camargo, never considered more than a fifth infielder, arrived and made like Carlos Correa. (Another.) Rodriguez, who was believed to be out for the season, made it back in July.
The infield became such a crowded place that even Freeman, the cornerstone, moved to the other corner. There was no longer a place for Swanson, the guy who figured to have a place in Atlanta for the next decade.
And that still could happen. Sometimes big names get sent down. The Braves might have been better off doing this last week, when Brian Snitker made it clear Swanson was no longer his everyday — or even every-other-day — shortstop, but they like Swanson and very much want him to succeed. There can, alas, be no success without playing time.
What happens now depends, duh, on Swanson. He can take his demotion and make the most of it, and if that happens he’ll be back soon enough. Phillips could be traded. So could Adams. Camargo, whose career minor-league average was .279, isn’t apt to hit .300 much longer. But the bigger issue is Swanson’s reaction: Will he be miffed, or will he see this as a time to clear his head and play his game?
The guess is he’ll do the latter. For someone anointed the Face of the Franchise, Swanson has seemed unimpressed with himself. Here’s his chance to do the work and come back and, once again, impress us all.
Further reading: If Dansby Swanson isn’t going to play here, he shouldn’t be here.