Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Travis Swaggerty didn’t do terrible at Triple-A in 2022, but with many outfield prospects on the horizon, what could his role be in 2023?
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Travis Swaggerty in the first round of the 2018 draft. Swaggerty has the talent to be an everyday outfielder with the rare blend of raw power and speed but has yet to put it all together in a full season. Swaggerty posted solid numbers at Triple-A in 2022, but with multiple other outfield prospects in the organization, where do the Pirates do from here with the former first-round pick?
Swaggerty spent most of the 2022 season at Triple-A Indy, where he slashed .254/.349/.399 with a .338 wOBA and 102 wRC+. Those weren’t the best numbers, but they were respectable overall. Swaggerty reached base at a healthy rate and drew walks 12.4% of the time. The downside is he had a 25.5% strikeout rate. His .146 ISO was playable but far from great.
This was a disappointing season after it looked as if Swaggerty had started improving his game in 2021. He only stepped to the plate 48 times before suffering a season-ending injury but was lifting the ball a whole lot more. Swaggerty hit three home runs in this short stint and had a 26.7% line drive rate. He only had a .220 batting average, but with that high of a line-drive rate and a .200 batting average on balls in play, Swaggerty was a victim of abysmal batted ball luck in a small sample size. But this year, Swaggerty saw his ground ball rate revert to 50.2% and his line-drive rate decrease to just 19.2%.
There are still some positives for the outfield prospect, though. He had an excellent first half of 2022, where he had a .803 OPS, .357 wOBA, and 115 wRC+. Since the 2019 all-star break, Swaggerty has been a .762 OPS, .346 wOBA, and 111 wRC+ hitter. Again, those might not be eye-popping numbers, but they’re safely above average. Swaggerty also used his speed and on-base ability to his advantage, swiping 20 bags in 25 attempts.
Swaggerty might have an easier path to the major leagues if the Pirates didn’t already have a handful of other centerfield prospects. Ji-Hwan Bae moved Bryan Reynolds to left field in the season’s final week. Matt Gorski had a massive power outburst this past year, and Jared Triolo even started to get some reps in the outfield grass, specifically center field. You also can’t forget other notables like Matt Fraizer, Connor Scott, or Hudson Head. Swaggerty may have had a better season than the final trio mentioned, but it remains competitive for the position nonetheless.
If Swaggerty could reproduce his Triple-A numbers in 2022 in the major leagues in 2023, he’d be a good leadoff candidate for the Pirates. He provides excellent fielding, gets on base at a healthy rate, and has the speed to motor around the bases well. I believe it’s still too early to give up on Swaggerty, as he has the tools to be a productive major leaguer. But he suffers from many of the issues that Ke’Bryan Hayes suffers from. He has the raw power ability but consistently struggles to lift the ball. If he bats .250, he draws enough walks that he’ll still reach base enough to be productive, but he is severely limiting his production with his ground ball approach.
Next season, Swaggerty should be on the docket for a promotion to the major leagues early in the season, that is, if he is healthy and gets off to a decent start to the campaign. This way, the Pirates could let Ji-Hwan Bae take over at second base, move Rodolfo Castro to designated hitter, and put Swaggerty in center field. An outfield of Swaggerty in center with Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski flanking him would be the best possible defensive alignment the Pirates could put out there.
If Swaggerty struggles, the Pittsburgh Pirates could always move Bae back in center field and option the center field prospect back to Triple-A or move him into a reserve/fourth outfielder role. If Nick Gonzales eventually pushes Bae off of second base, forcing Bae to the outfield, the South Korean prospect is more than versatile enough that the Pirates would be able to find him playing time somewhere.
Swaggerty’s long-term role may be decided by how other prospects pan out, but in 2022, he should get the opportunity to get semi-regular playing time. He deserves at least a chance to prove himself, especially considering he’s never had a poor minor league season (wRC+ of 100 or great in every pro season of his career so far), provides excellent defense and speed, and a strong ability to draw walks and get on base.