Pittsburgh Pirates: Travis Swaggerty is Their Most Underrated Prospect

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Despite being drafted in the first-round of the 2018 draft, and putting up solid numbers in 2019, Travis Swaggerty may be the most underrated prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates had the 10th overall selection during the 2018 MLB Draft. They used their first-round pick to select outfielder Travis Swaggerty out of the University of South Alabama.

Throughout his NCAA career, Swaggerty hit .318/.457/.506. Swaggerty was great at getting on base with a 17.5% walk rate. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him because of his athleticism. Swaggerty is a great fielder with a plus arm and a good base runner.

The first-round pick, and top 10 selection, continued that with the Pirates’ short-season team when he hit .288/.365/.453 with a 140 wRC+ through 158 plate appearances. While he did struggle when he was moved to the full-season Low-A level, Swaggerty still made his presence known as a highly athletic prospect. He came in ranked as a top 100 prospect per MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus to start the 2019 season.

But Swaggerty quickly found himself falling off the prospect map. Despite keeping up the plus defense and base running at the High-A level, Swaggerty had started off the year batting .221/.318/.329, however he still found himself drawing walks at an efficient rate. However, Swaggerty caught fire in the second half of the year, finishing out 2019 batting for a .306/.375/.430 line.

All told, Swaggerty had a .265/.347/.381 batting line through 524 plate appearances. Swaggerty walked a fair amount, posting a 10.9% walk rate. Overall, he had a strong 120 wRC+, and .341 wOBA. This made him a well above average hitter at the High-A level. To go with that, he also stole 23 bases.

There’s little to no question about his defensive ability. FanGraphs gives him a 60 future fielding grade with a 60 arm. He easily has the ability to be a top tier defender in the outfield, and be in consistent talk about Gold Glove Awards. His speed also helps with his ability to cover ground in the outfield with a 65 current/future speed grade. He could be a future Gold Glove Award candidate.

The question about Swaggerty is about his bat. So far, he’s not been awful, but he’s lacked consistency as we saw with his large drop off from being moved from Low-A to High-A, and him starting off 2019 slow to end on a high note. FanGraphs gives his hit tool a 50 future, which makes him about average.

So far, the young outfielder has yet to show decent power, but FanGraphs gives him a 50 game power grade and 60 current and future raw power grade. Swaggerty had an average 89 MPH exit velocity, so there is hope he can develop more power.

But despite looking like a guy who could be a top three center field defender, while also providing some pop, and a solid on base percentage to put his wheels into play, Swaggerty did not enter 2020 as a top ranked prospect by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or MLB Pipeline. However, FanGraphs ranks him as the 62nd best prospect in baseball, which I think is an appropriate area to rank him at.

I’ve previously made a comparison to Jason Heyward throughout the early parts of his career offensively wise. From 2010 to 2015, Heyward hit for a .262/.351/.429 line with a 117 wRC+. He also walked 11.2% of the time, and showed a really good ability to round the bases with 15.9 base running runs above average. He also averaged about 25 doubles and 16 long balls to show he did have a bit of power. Like Heyward, the Pirates’ prospect is also a outstanding outfield defender.

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Swaggerty might only be seen as a top 100 prospect by FanGraphs, but FanGraphs usually has high success rates in terms of where they rank prospects, and who becomes productive major league players. He’s currently their best outfield prospect, and is likely the future of center fielder of the future. With the lack of attention given to Swaggerty, he has become somewhat of an underrated prospect within the Pittsburgh Pirates now deep farm system.