Kevin Gorman: Pirates’ top pick Travis Swaggerty ready to suit up after signing
Travis Swaggerty was suited up but not in the way he wanted. The Pirates’ first-round draft pick looked sharp for his introduction in a blue suit and gold tie but couldn’t wait to change clothes.
After signing on Friday for what MLB.com reported was a $4.4 million bonus, the No. 10 overall pick couldn’t wait to see PNC Park and was ready to take his first cuts and sprint out to center field.
“I would love to not be in my suit right now and actually go get to hit with them and shag some balls, but it is what it is,” said Swaggerty, 20, who will report to the Pirates’ short-season Class A Morgantown affiliate. “I’ll take it in and look forward to (Saturday) and getting the bat in my hands again.”
Pending completion of physical, 1st-rder Travis Swaggerty will sign w/ @Pirates for $4.4 million (pick 10 value=$4,560,200). South Alabama OF, best all-around tools among college players in @MLBDraft , speedy CF w/developing power.
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) June 15, 2018
Swaggerty had scruff on his face and didn’t hesitate to take off his tie once he was away from cameras. He doesn’t just look like a ballplayer but talks like one who loves working on his swing, loves playing the outfield and can’t wait to start playing professional baseball.
He wasn’t drafted out of Denham Springs High School in Mandeville, La., but loved having an access code to the batting cages at South Alabama and developed into one of the best hitters in college baseball.
After he was introduced by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and given a black ball cap and white home jersey with No. 18 on the front and his name on the back, Swaggerty admitted he had goose bumps and was still shaking with a “whirlwind of emotions.”
“It’s funny, actually. When I got here and I was on the bridge, I didn’t realize I was on the bridge overlooking the park,” Swaggerty said of crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge from Downtown to the North Shore. “I looked over at the stadium and was like, ‘Wait. I’m on the bridge, I mean, the bridge in the backdrop on TV. I’m here. This is amazing.’ I’m so anxious to see the field. It looks so beautiful on TV, even on the video games.”
When Swaggerty finally got onto the field, he stood at the edge of the grass outside the home dugout and took video of the beautiful ballpark with his phone. Pirates president Frank Coonelly spoke with Swaggerty and his father, Travis Sr., as they looked around in awe.
After batting practice, Pirates players stopped to welcome him to the team. Third baseman David Freese, a fellow South Alabama alum, had an extended chat like they were old friends. Waiting in the wings was outfielder Austin Meadows, the Pirates’ most recent top-10 pick (No. 9 overall in 2013). Meadows made his MLB debut just a month ago.
“I love watching him play, and I’ve actually had some player comps to him,” Swaggerty said of Meadows. “He’s an incredible player. Watching him do what he does at the level he does for being such a young kid, it’s incredible to watch. I’m looking forward to being next to him in the future.”
That’s the interesting thing about the Pirates’ pick. They are employing a four-man outfield rotation, with Meadows splitting starts with left fielder Corey Dickerson, center fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco.
When Meadows was drafted out of high school, he was expected to eventually succeed Andrew McCutchen in center. With Swaggerty a college product, his arrival to the majors could come earlier. That makes him a prime candidate to be the heir apparent to Marte.
Huntington gushed about Swaggerty, who hit .296 with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 57 games as a junior at South Alabama and was touted as one of the draft’s best pure hitters and held in high regard by the Pirates’ scouting department.
“What was fascinating,” Huntington said of the scouts, “was one would talk about his ability to impact the game as a hitter, one would talk about his ability to impact the game by drawing a walk and stealing a base, one would talk about his ability to drive a ball through the gap to the gap and into the seats …”
But it wasn’t just Swaggerty’s bat that impressed the Pirates, as Huntington talked about his ability to impact the game defensively, about his toughness and grittiness, about his intense drive and willingness to do whatever it took to help his team win.
“He shows up every day to help his team win a ballgame,” Huntington said. “and he’s going to do everything he can that night to help his teammates be the best they can be and to put the ‘W’ in the win column.”
That’s the kind of player the Pirates need to suit up.
One who has as much swag in his game as he does in his name.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.