After being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the tenth overall pick in the 2018 draft, outfielder Travis Swaggerty recalled a moment from his high school days.
Swaggerty had just hit a double, and when he got to second base, the shortstop asked him where he was going to college. He responded with South Alabama.
“Really?” Swaggerty recalled the shortstop asking in a surprised way.
“It doesn’t matter where you go to school, it matters what you do when you’re there,” Swaggerty said via conference call. “Just having that mindset and putting that chip on my shoulder when I play everyday, it’s been huge.”
After three years at the small school, Swaggerty emerged as one of the top prospects and one of the top college hitters in this draft. Baseball America and MLB.com ranked him 11th overall, while Keith Law had him 4th. And of course, he went off the board tenth to Pittsburgh.
That part was a surprise.
Most players have a good idea that the team that selects them was heavily interested in them. Swaggerty had no idea. He knew the Pirates were one of the teams that saw him, but his advisor handled the information of which teams were heavily interested. That led to a surprise on draft day.
“I told him I didn’t really want to know too much,” Swaggerty said of his advisor. “He did a good job of that. I just wanted to let the whole night play out and wanted it to be a surprise for me.”
The path to today really increased around Swaggerty’s sophomore year. He went to South Alabama as a two-way player, hitting 92 MPH as a pitcher. He stopped pitching during the spring as a freshman to protect his arm and focus on hitting. That helped him go from being undrafted out of high school to where he is now.
“Being able to focus all of my energy on one thing instead of two, that helps enough,” Swaggerty said.
His power and overall numbers ticked up around his sophomore year. He took the summer off between his freshman and sophomore years, and worked on adding weight and strength. He finished the previous year at 168 and returned at 185.
“Just getting my weight back and some more strength helped the power alone,” Swaggerty said.
He went from four homers and a .119 ISO his freshman year to 10 homers and a .206 ISO as a sophomore. Moving away from pitching played a big role in that, as Swaggerty explained when I asked about how that impacted his mechanics at the plate.
“What a lot of people don’t know about hitting is that if you want power, you need a really strong top hand,” Swaggerty said. “My top hand is my left hand, and I throw with my left arm. So if I’m pitching, it’s hard to do top hand work, because that stuff can make your elbow hurt, it can make your elbow sore. My arm not being sore all the time, it definitely helped me do more top hand work and get it stronger, and that’s why I think I’ve gotten better ball flight and better distance.”
There are questions about how much power he will hit for going forward, although the improvements the last two years have most projecting Swaggerty for average power in the future. That, combined with above-average or better grades with his other tools makes him a top draft pick, and a guy who can stick in center field in the long-term, while also hitting for average, getting on base, adding speed, and hitting for some power.
Swaggerty said he didn’t know much about the Pirates’ organization, but he was definitely familiar with PNC Park.
“I really don’t know that much about the Pirates, to be honest with you, but all I could think about was that beautiful ballpark, and being able to roam around center field there in the future. I can’t wait.”
The Pirates have no shortage of center field options in the majors, especially with Austin Meadows arriving in Pittsburgh. But Swaggerty could be the top center field prospect in the minor league system now with Meadows in the big leagues, and as a college guy, he should be given a chance to move quickly through the system, to the point where he won’t have to wait long if he has a smooth transition over to pro ball.