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Braves certain Swanson can make next step up

Despite rocky 2017, Atlanta still high on young shortstop
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As Dansby Swanson was repeatedly humbled while enduring inevitable growing pains and suffering through what some might have considered a sophomore slump, it was important to remember the Braves' young shortstop was experiencing just his second full season at the professional level.

Swanson's stock rose when he tasted immediate success upon his accelerated rise to the Majors in 2016, and then dipped last season as opponents took advantage of the chance to exploit the tendencies of a young player. But the Braves have remained confident in Swanson's capability to live up to the great expectations that were set when he was selected with the first-overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft.

ATLANTA -- As Dansby Swanson was repeatedly humbled while enduring inevitable growing pains and suffering through what some might have considered a sophomore slump, it was important to remember the Braves' young shortstop was experiencing just his second full season at the professional level.

Swanson's stock rose when he tasted immediate success upon his accelerated rise to the Majors in 2016, and then dipped last season as opponents took advantage of the chance to exploit the tendencies of a young player. But the Braves have remained confident in Swanson's capability to live up to the great expectations that were set when he was selected with the first-overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft.

"Last year was a big year for (Swanson)," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Now he's going to go into this year a lot more prepared ... I think a lot more versed in what to expect when we get to Spring Training. Last year, he probably thought he did but then it didn't go like we wanted."

Video: Snitker on Swanson's inconsistent second year

After being fast-tracked from Double-A Mississippi to the Majors with just six weeks left in the 2016 season, Swanson hit .302 and produced a .803 OPS over 38 games. But the 23-year-old suburban Atlanta native's inexperience showed this past season as he hit .232 with a .636 OPS and created some defensive concerns that had not previously existed.

Still, as the Braves look toward this season and beyond, they recognize the significant influence Swanson could have on their bid to become a legitimate postseason contender within the next two seasons.

"We like Dansby a lot," Snitker said. "Last year could prove to be really beneficial for him."

Much has been made of the fact Swanson totaled just 127 games and 569 plate appearances in the Minors before making his Major League debut. But it should also be remembered that the first of his three seasons at Vanderbilt University was cut short by a broken foot. His misfortunes extended into 2015, when after being taken by the D-backs with the first pick, he was struck in the face with a pitch during a live batting-practice session the day before what was supposed to be his pro debut.

Video: Bowman on expectations for Swanson in 2018

Swanson hit below .200 during most of this past season's first two months and did not get his batting average above the .200 for good until June. The struggles he had handling sliders and pitches on the outer third of the plate led the Braves to demote him to Triple-A Gwinnett on July 26.

What was intended to be a lengthy stay in the Minors proved to be a short one as a Johan Camargo injury brought Swanson back to Atlanta's lineup on Aug. 9. Reunited with his good friend Ozzie Albies, who had made his MLB debut a week earlier, Swanson showed improved plate coverage and a strong psyche, hitting .268 and producing a .707 OPS over the remainder of the season.

The strides might not have been staggering, but they were significant enough for the Braves to maintain confidence in Swanson's capability to enrich their future.

"Baseball will eat you alive if you let it," Swanson said. "Being able to constantly tell yourself that you believe in yourself and what you're doing, it literally makes all the difference in the world."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Dansby Swanson