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INTERVIEW: It’s still ‘just baseball’ for Travis Swaggerty

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He doesn’t care about batting average

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

The Pittsburgh Pirates used their 2018 first round pick — the 10th overall — on outfielder Travis Swaggerty. I caught up with him as the West Virginia Black Bears got set to play the State College Spikes in New York Penn League action.

The New York Penn League All-Star rosters were announced yesterday, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ NYPL affiliate West Virginia Black Bears carry three participants, 2018 first-round pick Travis Swaggerty among them.

Even if the squads were not hand-picked by NYPL executives, Swaggerty would be a worthy choice for the honor, with a .268/.348/.447 slash in his first 32 games as a professional.

Oh, but just throw out that batting average. Swaggerty does not care about it.

“I think batting average is a pretty over-rated stat.” Swaggerty told me when I asked him what a successful first season might look like. “I don’t want to dive into the numbers too much...there are so many guys that hit the ball hard and line out all the time; myself included. Mainly...just..staying productive and staying consistent for my team. That would be a successful first season.”

While analytics guys such as myself might rave over Swaggerty’s enlightened attitude towards the statistic, less numerically bent folks will appreciate his sound mental approach.

In that way, Swaggerty might just be the closest thing to a universally liked prospect as one will find. Certainly many talent evaluators in the industry feel that way. The folks at MLB Pipeline even feel strongly enough to have him squeak into their Top 100 at number 85.

“What I like about his tools is that there is plenty of future growth to be had.” one Pittsburgh Pirates scout told me when Swaggerty signed. “The game power is very projectable because he is a smart player, and I think he’ll be able to refine his approach and make adjustments pretty quickly. When you put that on top of his hit and speed tool, the entire package is very exciting.”

If you listen to Swaggerty tell it, that game power might take a big leap sooner rather than later.

“I almost had to learn how to hit a fastball again.” Swaggerty said when asked what surprised him the most between college and pro ball. “It’s crazy, it’s almost like i got so few in college, and now I’ve gotten more fastballs and they start mixing breaking balls in again...I just have to keep going back and forth so for me it’s just trying to find a happy medium between the two.”

“Early it was a lot of breaking balls down that I was swinging at...once I started making the adjustment there it was a lot of fastballs up, and I started swinging at those...I’ve gotten a little better, at least in the last few days, I really need to stay in my zone. I’m starting to get adjusted to it.”

Roughly two months in to his professional career, Swaggerty already knows that adjustments will be the key to delivering on the promise that a first round pick carries.

His manager — first year Black Bears manager Kieran Mattison — agrees.

“For me, it’s not so much the strikeout totals.” Mattison replied when asked about how Swaggerty can cut down on strikeouts (which Swaggerty admits is his biggest weakness right now). “The main thing is the approach. A strikeout is not about the swing, but what the hitter is trying to do in that situation. He has some really good at-bats. We are trying to get him to stay calm and not do too much. He has good idea at the plate to go up and do damage each time he comes up to the plate. That, and he can make adjustments pitch-to-pitch which is a good start.”

In talking to Mattison (my first time doing so), I was struck by just how no-nonsense he is. Swaggerty concurs and points to his relationship with his manager as a key to his success.

“I know I can go to him about anything, whether it be off the field/on the field. He can trust me as well. During a game I know I can go to him with questions and get a straight-up answer.”

I alluded to it above, but Swaggerty’s answer illuminated just how solid he is from a mental standpoint. He never gives anything less than a thoughtful answer, and one can tell that he lives and breathes the game.

A good comp

Though many liken his tools to that of New York Yankees OF Brett Gardner, Swaggerty has a different outfielder in mind that he would like to emulate.

“I really like Corey Dickerson. I really like him because he’s a left-handed hitting outfielder; He can use the whole field. He just goes about it the right way. He’s a JUCO grinder. He grinds it out and shows what it’s like to be a professional hitter.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates would certainly take another Dickerson in their future outfield. Swaggerty’s other tools — namely his 60 rated speed — might make him a bit more dynamic of an overall player than Dickerson somewhere down the road.

At the end of the day...

Even with an advanced mental approach, Swaggerty understands the bigger picture.

“It’s just the game. I’m trying to have fun and enjoy myself. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially in professional baseball. “

“But in the end, it’s still just baseball.”

Hear the full interview

The full interview is up on the Locked on Pirates podcast. Have at it!

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