Outfielder Travis Swaggerty Gets USA Baseball Collegiate National Team Invitation
Posted on September 14, 2017 by Charlie Nichols
Growing up in Louisiana, University of South Alabama baseball outfielder Travis Swaggerty always thought playing summer ball in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League would be “awesome,” but playing for his country never entered his mind.
“I never even thought that would be a possibility, especially being from a smaller school that had never sent anyone there before,” Swaggerty said of his USA Baseball Collegiate National Team invitation. “It’s crazy because in high school before I was being recruited, I thought I would probably just go to school at LSU. I just blew up all of a sudden because a lot of guys who were better than me when we were younger got complacent. And I wanted it, so I kept working and passed them up. I will be damned if someone is going to pass me up now.”
Swaggerty played in 19 games for Team USA this summer, and ranked second on the team in hits (21) and on-base percentage (.449). He finished third in stolen bases (6) and batting average (.328). The Mandeville, La., native helped Team USA to a 15-5 record over 20 contests.
But Swaggerty had to earn his spot on the Collegiate National Team roster. The wheels started turning in April with a phone call from Team USA general manager Eric Campbell.
“I didn’t really know it was a possibility, but he just told me that they had eyes on me and if I did what I had to do then I would get invited,” Swaggerty said. “So I got the call in April, but it was just an invitation to the trials for the first week that I had to do – it wasn’t like I was on the roster. If I hadn’t played well enough, then I would have gotten cut and I would have gone back to the Cape (Cod Baseball League). I went to the Cape first and got the feel of the wood bat in my hands, then went down to Team USA.”
Swaggerty played in just two games with the Brewster Whitecaps in the CCBL before heading down to the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., to begin his tryout.
“When I got there, I think I was a little worried about being one of the only smaller-school guys there,” he said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around something like that. I wasn’t some huge recruit out of high school – I wasn’t even a draft prospect. I came here (South Alabama) as essentially a nobody, so to go from there all the way up to playing for Team USA only two years later is really hard to understand. I was afraid there might be some politics involved when I got there, and I wouldn’t get the at-bats that I needed to show my ability. So I thought I might have limited opportunities and knew I had to take advantage of it. If I walked or got on base, I was stealing every time on the first pitch. I’ve never really put it in my head that I actually played for Team USA.”
But Swaggerty not only played, he produced. He led Team USA in batting average (.417) in a four-game sweep of Chinese Taipei after finishing 5-for-12 with one double, one triple, one RBI, two runs scored and a team-high four stolen bases. He followed that series with a .429 batting average in four games against Cuba, and led the squad in doubles (2), RBI (4) and OBP (.500).
“Chinese Taipei and Cuba kind of came after you a little bit,” he stated. “I don’t feel like I got pitched to very much here last year; I feel like I got pitched around a lot. When I got up there with Team USA, they (international pitchers) don’t know who you are and they just come right at you. I was getting pitches to hit so I just had to find the barrel. I was getting fastballs in the zone that I could hit, so I was swinging; I don’t get a lot of those out here. The pitchers from the Far East had different breaking balls. Chinese Taipei and Japan would throw loopy, 12-6 curveballs and pitched off of that. Guys at our level try to throw a power curveball – they don’t try to loop one in there. They throw 87 (mph) but it looks like 92, because they kept on throwing curveballs.”
"I wasn’t some huge recruit out of high school – I wasn’t even a draft prospect. I came here (South Alabama) as essentially a nobody, so to go from there all the way up to playing for Team USA only two years later is really hard to understand."
Swaggerty made the final cut as a member of Team USA leading up to its final series with Japan, capping the summer with four hits in five games played in a series that Team USA won 3-2.
“I swung it pretty well against Chinese Taipei and Cuba,” he said. “I was swinging it really well until that last series with Japan. I didn’t think I was really overmatched against Japan, they just had some different stuff that I hadn’t seen before. I remember talking to (Oklahoma outfielder) Steele Walker after I struck out for the second time one game, and I told him there is no way I could survive college baseball in Japan. Other than the Japan series, it was pretty standard I guess; there wasn’t too much I couldn’t handle.”
The same could be said of Swaggerty’s sophomore campaign in 2017. He earned second-team All-America honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings, and first-team all-Sun Belt Conference accolades after leading the league in on-base percentage (.484) – which ranked 12th nationally – RBI (60) and runs scored (55), ranked second in batting average (.363) and total bases (125), and fourth in stolen bases (19). He helped lead South Alabama to its first SBC Tournament title since 2005, where he was named to the SBC All-Tournament team, and its second straight NCAA postseason appearance.
That followed a freshman season in 2016 in which he earned Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball after finishing second in the SBC in walks (42) and stolen bases (20), third in on-base percentage (.431) and tied for seventh in runs scored (47). He hit safely in 44 of 59 games as a freshman, including the final three which came in the NCAA Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional where he received all-tournament honors after batting .412 with one double, one triple, one home run, two RBI, four runs scored and one stolen base in four games.
Swaggerty’s summer wasn’t without struggles, however. In the final series of the summer with Team USA, he batted just .200 against Japan and finished 4-for-20 in five games.
“I didn’t really have a numbers goal,” he said. “If I would have gone up there with goals in mind, I don’t think I would have done as well. I went up there not thinking about anything, and just tried to find barrel and see what happened. That’s really all you can do, and the numbers will speak for themselves.”
But beyond the numbers, Swaggerty feels like he gained experience and knowledge that can help carry his teammates at South Alabama to another level.
“If I can just take my approach and tell other guys what I see, I can almost be like a coach on the field,” he said. “I can be more of a leader vocally than I was before. With Team USA and being from a smaller school, I kind of had to be vocal just so I could let myself be known. I haven’t really done that in the past here, but I think I could this year and I can really help us – on top of the guys we have coming back. If I can just rub off on them enough so we’re just one big unit and we’re all thinking the same way, then it’s going to be dangerous.”
When Swaggerty reminisces about his experience this summer, one particular memory on Independence Day stands out.
“We played Cuba on July 4 at the Charlotte Knights’ stadium – the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox – and it was packed,” he said. “There had to be 20,000 people there. I can’t describe what it feels like playing in front of that many people. Having USA across your chest and singing the National Anthem on July 4 when you are playing against another country, then the whole crowd starts chanting ‘U-S-A’ in the seventh inning – it’s really hard to describe the feeling. I just really soaked in those moments.”
"Having USA across your chest and singing the National Anthem on July 4 when you are playing against another country, then the whole crowd starts chanting ‘U-S-A’ in the seventh inning – it’s really hard to describe the feeling."
“It’s such a big deal because he represented the University of South Alabama and his country,” South Alabama head coach Mark Calvi said. “There really isn’t a higher honor in baseball than that. Very few get to experience that, so it is something he will never forget. He represented himself, this program and University with a lot of class and dignity. Travis is a self-made guy, and that’s what I am most proud of.”
Swaggerty may have a few more moments in his career left to soak in. He will be draft-eligible this season as a junior at South Alabama, and has driven his draft stock higher with his performance with Team USA this summer.
"Baseball America" ranked him as the No. 4 college prospect for the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft, with the publication stating Swaggerty “has the power-speed combo to earn Jacoby Ellsbury comparisons.” If that ranking holds true to the draft, then Swaggerty would become the first Jaguar selected in the first round of the MLB Draft since Pat Putnam was taken with the 22nd overall pick of the 1975 draft by the Texas Rangers.
“You should have seen the crowds at the USA national complex,” Swaggerty said. “There had to have been at least four scouts from each (MLB) team. There was over 100 scouts at every game we played. Before Team USA, I feel like people knew who I was but not at that national scale. Having all of those guys see me helped put my name and South Alabama’s name on the map. We’re not hiding from anybody anymore. For me to keep that draft stock like it is, I can’t worry about the draft. I can’t work or play thinking about it, I just have to think about improving and polishing up my game to help get the guys around me better and ultimately get this thing to where we want to be.”
Where Swaggerty and his teammates want to be at season’s end is in Omaha, Neb., competing in the College World Series.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “I can’t think about the (MLB) draft. It’s hard not to, but all I have to do is focus on winning and getting the program over the hump. Everything else will take care of itself. I know I want to win more than anything. I’m not complacent with doing the same thing we’ve done two years before. I want to win and put us on ESPN in a Super Regional. If we just go to a regional and do what we have done the first two years, then we won’t have made any progress. I want to make progress and get us over the hump, and I feel like we can do it. This is the team to do it.
“I feel like we have more leaders here than we had on Team USA. I feel like I have something to prove. I have always played with a chip on my shoulder, but I had to prove myself at Team USA. We have a lot of experience returning this year and we all have the same mentality. If we put it all together, then it could be dangerous.”
In over 50 years of baseball, Swaggerty is the first student-athlete from the University of South Alabama to play for Team USA – a thought that he says is humbling.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “There’s obviously some big-time big leaguers who have come through here. It makes me feel like there is no reason that I can’t make it to the big leagues too. I know South Alabama is already on the map, but just to have a guy come out of here and play with Team USA in the national spotlight is pretty cool.”
If Swaggerty gets his way in the spring, that national spotlight will expand beyond him and encompass his South Alabama teammates all the way to Omaha.
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