Travis Swaggerty is having the best month of his career. The latest proof -- his first multi-homer game as a pro, which pushed Class A Advanced Bradenton past Lakeland, 3-2, on Saturday night at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium -- was the most emphatic power surge he's displayed since joining the Pirates organization a little more than a year ago.
But the greatest strides the Bucs' No. 4 prospect has made in his first full season have little to do with the front foot he now keeps planted in his load or the newfound trust in his hands to hit the ball to the opposite field. Instead, Swaggerty's development since becoming a first-round pick has been in his head.
"It's very easy to put pressure on yourself to meet expectations," the 21-year-old said. "You know you have high expectations from people and you know you have high expectations for yourself. I think that's why I put the pressure on myself. Looking back, there was no reason to do that. But I can see why I was trying so hard. Also, I'm a pretty hard-nosed guy and I really just want to do well, that it's hard to go through struggles, especially when you hardly have had to go through something like that before."
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Swaggerty hit .221 with a .646 OPS in the first half of the season. He was trying too hard to get hits. He refused to change. Now that's changed.
"That first half taught me how to make adjustments whenever they need to be made," he said. "I was stubborn for a while, thinking whatever I was doing was eventually going to click. It doesn't work that way all the time. It made me learn that it's OK to make adjustments and it's OK to struggle a little bit. I like to say, at least the Pirates like to say, too, 'Embrace the suck.' That's what they say. I made a little joke and said you have to [stink] for a little while if you want to be good. The game is starting to pay me back."
Once the calendar flipped to July, Swaggerty said, everything changed. He racked up four hits for the first time five days later. He faded a bit later in the month but still hit .319 with an .822 OPS.
August has been even better for the University of South Alabama product. He's brought his batting average up to .267 -- the highest it's been since May 4 -- with 24 hits in 17 games. He's collected five extra-base knocks in his last five games, and his .393 average and 1.039 OPS are the best of any month of his career.
Both of Swaggerty's home runs Saturday -- his eighth and ninth of the year -- were solo shots off right-hander Elvin Rodriguez, the Tigers' No. 22 prospect. The first sailed out to right field on a 1-2 pitch in the game's second at-bat. The other came as Swaggerty led off the fifth inning, working the count full before depositing a ball over the wall in right-center.
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"I'm free right now," he said. "I'm just seeing the ball so good right now. I'm just squaring it up and wherever it goes, it goes."
Lucas Tancas' double in the fourth plated Bradenton's other run and created enough cushion to fend off Lakeland's threat to tie it in the ninth. After John Valente knocked in the Flying Tigers' second run, Shea Murray fanned Brock Deatherage for the final out, stranding a runner on third and notching his sixth save.
Swaggerty's bat, though, made the difference. And there's a sharper mind behind it than ever before.
"I'm at the point where I think less is more," he said. "I take a few tee swings how I want them to feel and take a few BP swings and don't overdo it -- let it ride for the game so I can be as fresh as possible. My body, believe it or not, it's mid-August and I actually feel really good. I feel strong. I don't feel super sore. I feel good. I credit that to taking less swings. But more thought goes into the swings."