ZEBULON, N.C. — Dansby Swanson has yet to play a full professional baseball season, but has already been traded to a new organization. Months after being taken No. 1 overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB draft, the Marietta, Ga. native landed with his hometown team in Atlanta.
Currently working his way through the system, Swanson landed in Zebulon with the Carolina Mudcats. We sat down to speak with Swanson at Five County Stadium about being traded, dealing with an injury after being hit in the face by a baseball in a simulated game and dealing with heightened expectations.
North State Journal: Take me back to the moment you heard you were going to the Braves’ system. What that experience was like?
Dansby Swanson: I was out to dinner with my girlfriend and three officials for Nike, who were in town for the Winter Meetings. We were having fun at dinner and my phone started blowing up.
NSJ: So everyone knew before you?
Swanson: (Laughs) Yeah! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really know what to think about it in the beginning. Mad isn’t the right word, but I was just shocked. For about a week and a half I tried to just ignore it and didn’t really respond to anyone but my family. I tried to take the emotions out of it because, as I’m sure you know, when something emotional happens your decisions aren’t the best. I just wanted to look at it from a holistic perspective instead.
NSJ: Growing up as a Braves fan in Marietta, Ga., how great of an opportunity is it to be home?
Swanson: Being home is a good thing, but there are ups and downs about it. People don’t always see the negatives of it. From a playing standpoint, though, it’s a great opportunity. Whenever I’m able to wear that Braves across your chest, it’s a pretty unique feeling. I can’t wait for that moment.
NSJ: Which player did you grow up idolizing?
Swanson: Honestly, the player I grew up on was Nomar Garciaparra. I had this video called “Superstar Shortstops” I’d watch when I was young and he stood out to me. I wanted to be like him. There was just something about how he played that made me want to be a shortstop.
NSJ: Was that a VHS?
Swanson: Yes it was. (Laughs) Oh, yeah. And it was awesome.
NSJ: What was the process like coming back from being hit in the face by a baseball before your pro career ever started?
Swanson: Well, I got hit and I don’t remember much after it. I remember standing in the box with blood streaming down my face after being knocked out. I figured, “Oh, that’s not good.” But I’m just a stubborn prick, I guess, and told everyone to get me out of here. They kept telling me to lay down and I said, “No, seriously. I’m leaving.” The worst part wasn’t being hit in the face. The concussion was awful.
NSJ: How much of a change is the partial facemask?
Swanson: You don’t even notice it really when you’re batting. Base running is actually kind of odd because there’s something in your face when you’re diving.
NSJ: What was the toughest part about getting back to the field?
Swanson: It was kind of how you expect as far as the physical aspect, but the mental part was different. There was really no fear factor for me, though, because I didn’t remember it. So that was probably a blessing in disguise because I know that’s tougher for other guys to get over.
NSJ: Being a basketball player in high school, when was the moment you decided to just play baseball?
Swanson: Going into my junior year [of high school], I was undecided whether or not I wanted to keep playing. Some people had convinced me that it was taking away from baseball, but I told my family that I had to play. Basketball is actually my favorite sport still to this day. I wish I was better at basketball like I am at baseball. But I guess that would have made the decision that much harder.
NSJ: What did you learn from being a multi-sport athlete?
Swanson: OK, this is going to be my moment to preach to all the young kids. (Laughs) So everybody thinks that if you specialize in a sport, you’re going to be so much better at it. That’s completely not true. Not in the least bit. Being able to compete in two different environments helped shape me.
I went to an all-black high school and learned so much about diversity and adversity. I was able to see different sides of the community because I played basketball. I know that I wouldn’t be who I am and where I’m at today because of basketball.
NSJ: You have the phrase “All Dai” stitched on your glove for Dai-Jon Parker. What was your relationship with him like in high school and college?
Swanson: I’ll never forget the first time we played together. He was by far better than everyone else. From that instance on, there was just an immediate respect factor between us. There was an unbreakable bond between us that was never really spoken of really.
He actually committed to play basketball at Vanderbilt before I committed to play baseball. So he kind of put Vandy on the radar for me. Then last year, right before the NCAA Tournament [baseball] started, he passed away in a boating accident. I just didn’t know how to react, but I’m grateful for the bond that we had.
Thank you @wilsonballglove!! Peaceful knowing I’ll have Dai with me all year 🙌🏼 #AllDai pic.twitter.com/ZgyOhV6Je8
— Dansby Swanson (@LieutenantDans7) February 24, 2016
NSJ: John Manuel of Baseball America called you “the best prospect for the Mudcats since Miguel Cabrera.” How big of an honor is that and what is it like to play with that type of pressure?
Swanson: Thanks, John. Really appreciate that. (Laughs) But seriously, that’s a tremendous honor. I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near Miguel Cabrera because of what he’s achieved. I mean, the man won the Triple Crown. That’s something that probably won’t be done again for a long time. He’s one of the best hitters of our generation, so that’s a huge honor.
Pressure? No, I think pressure to me is a self-created thing because you have doubt about your abilities. That pressure’s not there because I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me.
NSJ: How much talk was there in the offseason about a position change with Ozzie Albies [Braves’ No. 3 prospect] also battling for Atlanta’s starting shortstop position?
Swanson: There wasn’t really that much talk about it. Look, we’re both shortstops and we both want to play the position. All I can control is how I approach everything and my training. Every day I’m trying to prove myself and show that I deserve that role.
NSJ: What was the first purchase you made when you got that $6.5 million bonus on your rookie contract?
Swanson: Well, my first purchase was dinner at some really nice place in Arizona. Like, it was really nice. (Laughs) I don’t remember the name of it, though. My first substantial purchase, though, was a truck. A Ford Platinum.
NSJ: Your sister, Lindsey, gave you a Voodoo doll as a Christmas present at Vandy. Do you still have it here with you in Zebulon?
Swanson: No, I do not have it with me, unfortunately. It is somewhere in my house, but I forgot to bring it. It’s a little baby rhino with a message that said, “To keep you injury free and comfortable in your own skin.”
NSJ: What was the reasoning behind it?
Swanson: Well, first of all, my sister is like my best friend. Second of all, I had a rough freshman year at Vanderbilt as far as injuries go, so she got it for me kind of as a joke, but I kind of took it seriously.
NSJ: You haven’t always had the long locks. What made you start growing out the hair?
Swanson: Oh, God. (Laughs) So, my sophomore year I was rooming with Jared Miller, Adam Ravanelle and Carson Fulmer. They all had really long hair and they all kept telling me to grow it out. They said, “If you’re going to be in this room, you should grow out your hair.” It was just funny then, but it’s become a part of who I am now.
NSJ: So what’s the secret to it?
Swanson: People always think I do special stuff to my hair. I literally wake up, take a shower and put a hat on. That’s my life, man. I will not wash it with just Head & Shoulders or something like that. I can’t do that weak stuff.
NSJ: What was the biggest shock to the system being in the minors?
Swanson: I guess the biggest difference is that in college, every time we hit the field we expected to win. I went to a pretty successful college and we won a lot. Not that we don’t want to win here, but it’s obviously more about development at this level. You really have to get used to that.
NSJ: Tell me about your first Spring Training experience with the Braves.
Swanson: It was fun! Honestly, I think I stayed up there a lot longer than people thought. It was just good to be around older, veteran guys that have done all of this before. They were very unselfish and willing to help me be the best player I can be. It was cool to be able to pick their brains.
NSJ: So what are your overall expectations this season and moving forward?
Swanson: Honestly, just to be the best player I can be. I know it’s overused, but I take everything one day at a time and one moment at a time. Right now this interview is the most important thing to me. Then after that I prepare for the game, eat dinner and play baseball. That’s how I’ve learned to approach life. It seems to be working.