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Southern notes: Swanson stays focused

Under microscope, top Braves prospect thriving in Mississippi debut
May 24, 2016

The Southern League has had plenty of mega-prospects in recent years, including Kris Bryant in 2014 and Byron Buxton last season. Few have garnered the initial attention of Dansby Swanson, though.

That's because Swanson,'s No. 6 overall prospectwas already a Southeastern Conference hero, and these days he holds the hope for the region's rebuilding Major League franchise.

Do the Atlanta Braves have their next Chipper Jones on the way? You can't blame fans for dreaming.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft out of Vanderbilt University, Swanson hit .307 in his first 22 games with Double-A Mississippi after batting .333 in 21 games for Class A Advanced Carolina.

The only thing topping the media attention Swanson draws is the clamor for his autograph.

"It was really wild when we played the Smokies in Tennessee," said the 22-year-old shortstop.

Swanson, though, handles the requests as smoothly as he does reporters' questions.

"It's humbling to be asked to sign," he said. "The kids come first, but I'll sign for everyone as long as I have time."

Swanson grew up just outside Atlanta in Marietta -- where his mother is in the high school's athletic hall of fame -- and has always been a big Braves fan.

He was never into autographs himself, though.

"I was always into playing, not collecting," said Swanson, the youngest of three children. "I probably would have been too shy to ask for an autograph anyway."

A basketball and baseball standout in high school, Swanson had hopes of landing a scholarship to Georgia Tech. Instead, he got an offer from Vanderbilt, and he helped the Commodores to a College World Series title and a runner-up finish.

The D-backs took Swanson with the first overall pick last June, but he played in just 22 regular-season Minor League games for Arizona. In a shocking trade, Arizona dealt Swanson to the Braves as part of a three-player package for starting pitcher Shelby Miller.

Not long before the trade, Swanson had addressed Marietta High School students. His speech was entitled "Homecoming."

The trade gave the right-handed hitter the chance to do just that.

The Braves will move into a new ballpark in Cobb County next season that will be only a few miles from where Swanson grew up.

Will he be in a Braves uniform by then?

"It would obviously be an honor to be part of that," Swanson said. "But that's getting way ahead of things. I'm just working every day to get better. As we get closer, it could be something I think about."

In a recent podcast, Braves general manager John Coppolella listed Swanson and Ozzie Albies as the team's potential double-play combination in 2017. If that happens, which one will play shortstop and which one will move to second base?

The Braves have kept their No. 1 and No. 3 prospects apart so far this season, with Albies moving up to Triple-A Gwinnett when Swanson was promoted to Double-A.

"There has been a lot of speculation," Swanson said. "No one has indicated anything to me."

The bigger Swanson appears the likely one to stay at shortstop, though.

Scouts rave about Swanson's feel for the game and his leadership potential. He also has a very advanced approach at the plate. In 65 regular-season Minor League games through May 22, he had 39 walks to 36 strikeouts.

"His strike zone adjustment is outstanding," said Jonathan Schuerholz, the Braves' assistant director of player development. "He doesn't change his approach. He believes in what he's doing and knows what he has to do to get to the big leagues."

A little tunnel vision can't hurt.

"All the rest is outside noise," said Swanson, who is 16-for-45 with two homers and seven RBIs during a current 10-game hitting streak.

Of course, that means he has had to tune out a lot.

In brief

Phillips goes on DL: Biloxi outfielder Brett Phillips landed on the disabled list May 19 after straining a hamstring at Chattanooga two days earlier. Milwaukee's No. 2 prospect had six homers and 26 RBIs in 37 games while batting .254 with a .340 on-base percentage. Phillips, who turns 22 on May 30, is's No. 28 overall prospect. The left-handed hitter belted three homers on May 7 in a game at Pensacola.

Bad inning for Ellis: Mississippi right-hander Chris Ellis allowed twice as many runs in one inning at Mobile on May 20 as he had in any of his first seven starts to lose for the first time after six victories. Atlanta's No. 14 prospect saw his ERA -- once as low as 1.16 -- jump to 2.89 as he gave up six runs in the fourth inning in a game the BayBears ended up winning, 9-4. Ellis, 23, had retired nine straight batters before the bad inning, which featured three singles, a double, a walk, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly. The former Ole Miss standout was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels over the winter as part of the Andrelton Simmons trade.

Daal's streak over: Pensacola shortstop Calten Daal, beaned in his first at-bat of the season, put together a 14-game hitting streak after his return April 25 before going 0-for-4 against Mississippi on May 16. He had six multi-hit games during the streak, in which the native of Curacao was 21-for-51. Daal, 22, was 3-for-3 at Jacksonville on May 20 and was hitting .353 through 20 games. He hit .270 with 21 stolen bases last season for Daytona in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.

Gillaspie red hot: Montgomery first baseman Casey Gillaspie hit his eighth homer at Birmingham on May 22 to tie for the Southern League lead and had his average at .318 through 39 games. Tampa Bay's No. 8 prospect had also drawn 32 walks for a .445 on-base percentage to pair with his .589 slugging mark. Gillaspie, 23, had three homers and seven RBIs in his past eight games and was batting .355 in May. The switch-hitter was the No. 20 overall pick in 2014 out of Wichita State.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to