Despite its location in the heart of the deep south, the University of South Alabama hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of major league talent. They have turned out a few solid big leaguers over the years — Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre, and Adam Lind are among their most productive alums — but the Jaguars aren’t exactly a baseball factory like some other schools in the region.
Barring injury, outfielder Travis Swaggerty is a lock to become the school’s highest ever drafted player. No Jaguar has ever been selected in the first round of the draft*, and Swaggerty is a borderline top-five pick thanks to a well-rounded profile and some emerging power at the plate. He was a first-team preseason All-American heading into his junior year, and has backed up those accolades with a .312/.481/.580 line through 38 games this season. He has 10 home runs already, matching his career-high with roughly 20 games remaining in the season. He has also improved his walk rate to over 20 percent, and is walking nearly twice as often as he strikes out.
Thanks to his strong junior season, Swaggerty has solidified his place in the top 10. Would the Tigers consider taking him No. 1?
School: South Alabama
Draft day age: 20
MLB Pipeline prospect rank: 7
Previously drafted: Never
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: OF Travis Swaggerty
Swaggerty is a talented all-around player, but his bat is what makes him a high first rounder. He isn’t quite a plus hitter, but it’s not a stretch to say that above-average tool could get there one day. FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel noted that some believe Swaggerty is “the best college bat in the country,” a distinction that will almost surely land him in the top 10. Both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline have the hit tool graded as merely above-average, while MLB Draft Countdown and some other outlets say it’s plus. It has even led to some lofty comparisons, including one that McDaniel isn’t quite buying.
Since then, he’s added some strength and loft to his swing, now flashing 60 raw power to his pull side in BP and still showing plus speed and average ability to play center field. He had a hot start to the season that had some overzealously comparing him to Andrew Benintendi.
Part of the Benintendi comparison comes from Swaggerty’s plus speed and above-average tools in the outfield. He started out his college career in right field, but has made a seamless transition to center over the past couple seasons. He is good enough to stick in center, but like Benintendi — or Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, another common comparison — could potentially be a plus defender in a corner. MLB Pipeline was one of several outlets that praised these aspects of his game.
Swaggerty also uses his quickness well to steal bases and track down balls in center field. He throws better than most players at his position — his fastball reached 92 mph when he was a high school pitcher — and his makeup is another positive in his favor. The most common comparison is Brett Gardner, though Gardner had less pop and more speed at the same stage of their careers.
Back to the bat, though. Even without a bump in power, Swaggerty projects as a useful leadoff hitter thanks to that above-average hit tool and an advanced approach at the plate. He walked a ton last year, and is getting on base at a ridiculous rate this season. 2080 Baseball gave some quick notes on his performance with Team USA last summer, saying more of the same.
...quick bat with ability to manipulate the barrel and use the entire field; comfortable will going the other way; good plate discipline, ability to make adjustments; will fight off pitches he can’t handle to get counts in his favor; good pull power with loft and leverage in his swing; projects to plus hit/power guy
Swaggerty also possesses the best name of any of the draft’s top prospects. Those who were around last year may remember that I had a soft spot for eventual Rangers draft pick Bubba Thompson, and Swaggerty is the people’s champion this year. While he will unfortunately come auto-programmed with a ‘T-Swag’ moniker that is as bland as an office hallway, there is a lot of potential for name-related fun to be had. This doesn’t necessarily make him a better prospect, but having him and Kyle Funkhouser on the same team might be the best thing that could ever happen to our Twitter account (follow us!)
While Swaggerty has been an extremely productive college hitter, there are some mechanical issues with his swing that he will need to iron out at the pro level. Jason Churchill of Hero Sports noted that Swaggerty “does tend to overstride” at the plate, which could lead to a “lack of plate coverage and more swing and miss” against more advanced pitching. It is something he is able to get away with now against lesser competition, but will not fly against pro pitchers. FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel noted a similar issue, saying that Swaggerty was “off balance all day” in a viewing earlier this year, though it was likely an outlier of a performance. Others, like Minor League Ball’s John Sickels, wonder if Swaggerty is potentially selling out for a bit of power as the draft approaches.
If Swaggerty does adjust at the pro level and shorten his stride, it may sap some of the power he has added this year. While this will help him make more contact and likely hit for a higher average, he may end up with more gap than over-the-fence power, limiting his overall upside. There’s nothing wrong with a speedy hitter who hits for a solid average and gets on base frequently, but the Tigers would likely be hoping for a bit more if they opt for Swaggerty at 1-1.
Draft position: top 10, and pushing higher
Swaggerty entered the year as a likely first round pick, and has moved up to the top 10 with a strong spring for South Alabama. His power might still be a bit of a question mark going forward, but he has the tools to be a well-rounded outfielder who will stick in center field. You would like to see a player with louder tools get the nod at 1-1, but there aren’t many prospects like that in this year’s draft; Swaggerty could be the kind of under-slot surprise some Tigers fans are hoping for in June.