LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eight months after being selected with the first pick in last year's Draft, Dansby Swanson has come to his first big league Spring Training as one of the most intriguing players in Braves camp. But the former Vanderbilt University star certainly hasn't yet separated himself from his roots.
After working out with some of his new Braves teammates on Friday morning, Swanson returned to his hotel room and watched Vanderbilt's season-opening win over San Diego. The experience was certainly odd for the heralded prospect, who helped the Commodores win a national championship in 2014 and then guided them back to the College World Series finals last year.
"It was just so weird watching them and not being there," Swanson said. "I was watching and saying things like, 'What are you doing?' It's like you see this guy throwing breaking balls all the time, and you're like, 'How are you not looking for that?' But then I put myself in their shoes and think I probably wouldn't have done it either. It was just a different perspective."
Everything about these next few weeks will be new for Swanson, who is ranked as MLBPipeline.com's eighth-best prospect. A blockbuster offseason trade ended the suburban Atlanta native's short stint with the D-backs and positioned him to come to his first Spring Training at the professional level surrounded by great expectations.
Given that Swanson has played just 22 regular season games as a pro (all at the Rookie Level), there seems to be a strong possibility that he'll begin the upcoming season with either Class A Advanced Carolina or Double-A Mississippi. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has already informed his club's top prospect to spend these next few weeks competing as if he has a chance to be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.
"I had a chance to talk to [Swanson] earlier this week," Gonzalez said. "I said, 'Listen, you're 22 years old and you played a pretty good college league. So don't sell yourself short here. Come in here with the attitude that you're going to make this club."
As Swanson worked out at the Braves complex on Saturday, he impressed first-base coach Terry Pendleton with the smooth hands he displayed while fielding grounders. His disciplined and clean swing caught the attention of many, including Braves president of baseball operations John Hart.
"Any time you can be in this kind of environment, it's pretty neat," Swanson said. "You watch these guys as a kid and now you're able to compete with them. It's not necessarily an awe factor, it's just a neat feeling knowing you're heading in the right direction doing what you want to do."