CARY, N.C.—Travis Swaggerty never thought he would make it to this point. He never thought he’d be the starting center fielder for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He never thought he’d be signing autographs for a horde of young baseball fans, with “USA” embroidered across the chest of his jersey.
Just over two years ago, he wasn’t even sure if he’d be an outfielder at the collegiate level.
As a senior at Denham Springs (La.) High, Swaggerty wasn’t a blue-chip recruit. The few schools with interest in his home state of Louisiana wanted the high school closer to pitch at the collegiate level, much to the dismay of Swaggerty, who wanted to keep swinging a bat.
But South Alabama head coach Mark Calvi saw an incredible athlete. Swaggerty seemingly had every tool a recruiter looks for—he was fast, had quick bat speed, hit for contact, power and boasted a cannon of an arm. But questions still arose whether those raw skills would translate to the college ranks.
Calvi was willing to find out.
Those questions continued when Swaggerty barely hit .150 in fall ball of his freshman year. He was trying to hit the ball out of the park each time he came to the plate, and was slightly overcome with the jitters of being a freshman getting his first taste of college baseball. But Calvi held out hope.
“It’s not going to shock me if this guy’s on the field every day as a freshman,” he said to his assistants at a coaches meeting in the fall of 2015.
Swaggerty didn’t see action in the season opener against Evansville the following spring. In the second game, however, Calvi gave him the start as the leadoff hitter. Swaggerty repaid his head coach by hitting the first pitch he saw off the left-center field wall for a double.
“He sat on the bench for one game,” Calvi said with a laugh. “And the rest is history as they say.”
Swaggerty hit .303 as a freshman, stole 20 bases and hit 12 doubles. He followed that up with a .361/.487/.567 sophomore campaign that saw a boost in power (10 home runs) and 20 more stolen bases.
He’s the first South Alabama player to receive an invite to the Collegiate National Team. Swaggerty took the opportunity of playing with some of the nation’s best college players to improve his own game. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions.
“If there was something I struggled with during the season, I’d talk to a guy like, ‘Hey, what do you do to handle this?’ then I just kind of incorporate that into my at-bats,” Swaggerty said. “It’s really changed my approach, and it’s helped me tee some pitches up that I can drive.”
His revamped approach has helped him to .386/.518/.500 line through 14 games with the CNT. He stole six bases in seven attempts, knocked three doubles and engrained himself as the team’s starting center fielder, and a key cog atop the lineup.
Swaggerty said the biggest difference in his at-bats is his willingness to use each side of the field. Early in the summer, he tried to pull too many pitches. That resulted in pitchers shying away from fastballs, and sending more offspeed pitches his way.
“I had to change my approach in the swing. I started doing that now, here,” Swaggerty said. “I think to go up the middle, left center. When they throw me in, I trust my hands to get there. “I’ve been staying up in the middle of the field and that’s really helped me.”
CNT head coach John Savage (UCLA coach) recognized the type of player the team was getting when they sent him an invite: a strong athlete with multiple skills. But it’s Swaggerty’s baserunning that has stood out the most.
“He knows how to touch home plate,” Savage said. “That’s a quality that’s really underrated sometimes, is running the bases. He’s done a really good job of scoring some runs.”
Heading into the CNT’s five-game series against Japan, Swaggerty led the team with 13 runs. He credits his speed as one of the best aspects of his game, but sees it as a tool to help his team, not just to make himself look good.
“When I get on base I try to fly around,” Swaggerty said. “It’s not so much about trying to be selfish or trying to pad my stats, I’m trying to advance, get in scoring position and score runs for the team. I just try to fly around and do what I do to help the team out.”
Swaggerty is aware of the attention he receives from scouts on a nightly basis. He knows he’s having a successful summer. He’s hoping to be like former Jaguar Jordan Patterson, a fourth-round pick of the Rockies in 2013. Patterson hit .353 as a junior at South Alabama, helped lead the team to a 43-20 record, and a NCAA Tournament berth.
Patterson helped build the Jaguars’ baseball image. He helped pave the way for Swaggerty, someone who never imagined he’d even don a USA jersey. Now Swaggerty finds himself in Patterson’s shoes.
“I feel like I’m kind of having the same impact that (Patterson) did,” Swaggerty said. “Maybe what I’m doing could bring in some more recruits. I have no idea, I’m just trying to keep working and get our program on the map.”