Erik Swanson has had quite a ride this year through the South Atlantic League this season. During spring training, the Texas Rangers had converted him from a reliever to a starter. Swanson pitched so well with the Hickory Crawdads that he earned a trip to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lexington, Kentucky, close to his hometown of Cincinnati. Then his season took another turn when he was traded to the New York Yankees and sent to the Charleston RiverDogs, along with teammate Dillon Tate.
“It was one of those things; I was supposed to throw a bullpen, and they shut me down, which was weird because it doesn’t happen, so I kind of had an idea. And then immediately after, they called Dillon and me inside, and they told us we had been traded to the Yankees,” Swanson said of his move to the Yankees.
Pitching at the junior college level allowed Swanson to ease into his career. “I feel like it allows you to ease into the process a little bit more instead of jumping right into it at such a high level like that. And I feel like it gave me that extra time to develop and kind of figure it out instead of going right to a D-1, maybe not playing my first year,” he said.
Swanson’s experience at Iowa Western helped shaped not only the type of baseball player he’d become but also to grow off the field as well. “The way (Iowa Western head coach Mark Rardin) kind of runs it, you’re there for a reason. He’s there to develop you, not only as a player. His big thing was developing you and getting you ready for life after baseball because at some point it’s got to end for everybody. That was his big thing, turning us into men and he builds great relationships with each and every player.”
As for exposure playing for a junior college, that’s another thing Swanson had no worries about when it came to being drafted. “I felt like the program I was at; they did an excellent job with getting guys noticed. I mean it’s a notorious program for the junior college level. The amount of guys that coach Mark Rardin sends off to D-1s and what not, and then even pro scouts. We had pro scouts at nearly every game. I feel like the school itself did a great job of getting guys noticed.”
Swanson certainly caught the scouts’ eyes. Swanson pitched to a 2.39 ERA while posting a 10-1 record. Despite his record, most of his work came in relief as he only started three games. He struck out 97 batters while only walking nine in 79 innings pitched. “I talked to multiple scouts including the Yankees. I filled out questionnaires for most of the teams. There were a few teams that I didn’t. It’s one of those things to see who ended up picking me.”
He only had four days between the end of his season at Iowa Western and the draft. He was relaxing at his brother’s house when news came through that the Texas Rangers had drafted him in the eighth round. “I found out on Twitter. I was sitting on the couch watching TV at my brother’s place in Fargo, North Dakota. I opened up my phone and started scrolling on Twitter, and it just blew up instantly. My name popped up, and everyone started to tweet at me and stuff like that. Then five minutes later I got that call,” Swanson said.
Swanson’s minor league career got off to a slow start as he was injured for most of 2015 with a flexor strain in his right forearm. As for the injury, Swanson wasn’t sure how it happened. “It’s one of those things where it just came up one day after a start and it never really got better. As far as the whole motion of me throwing, I’m not sure. It’s one of those things that just came up.”
Swanson wanted to make sure injuries wouldn’t rule his 2016 season as well. “I have been hammering arm care this year. Trying to avoid the forearm flexor ever coming up again. My main goal coming into this season was to stay healthy and not have any setbacks. And I feel being able to have a routine with arm care, focusing on that has helped me out,” Swanson said.
When Swanson reported to spring training, Texas had his game plan laid out for him, assigning him to the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. First, they wanted him to work on his changeup to go along with his plus fastball and slider. “I mean I think that it’s a pitch I’ll be working on forever. There’s always something you can do with it. But as far as throwing it more consistently this year, that was my biggest challenge with it. Being able to throw it consistently for a strike. It’s been developing a lot better recently. It’s been a big pitch for me this year.”
Second, the Rangers wanted him to transition to starter. “It’s a big test for me this year, and it’s been a fun one. And mostly successful this year. Hasn’t been too difficult, just different. It took me a little bit to adjust getting into the five-day, six-day routine versus maybe you throw one day and then you have a day or two off, you throw again. But it’s been good; I like it a lot,” Swanson said.
His transition to starter has been successful as he was named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lexington, Kentucky, which allowed him to pitch in front of family and friends. “It was awesome. That was another one of my goals coming into the season and when I found out that I was selected for it, I was excited. Back in Lexington, I went to high school in Cincinnati, which is only an hour away, I had a lot of family and friends come and watch that,” Swanson said. He pitched one perfect inning in the game and struck out two of the three hitters he faced.
Swanson’s season took another turn on August 1 when he was informed, along with Crawdad teammate Dillon Tate, that he was traded to the New York Yankees in return for Carlos Beltran.
“It was one of those things; I was supposed to throw a bullpen, and they shut me down, which was kind of weird because it doesn’t happen, so I had an idea. And then immediately after, they called Dillon and me inside, and they told us we had been traded to the Yankees,” Swanson said of the trade.
At first, Swanson was in shock of the trade but warmed quickly to the idea. “At first, it was a really big surprise; I didn’t expect it. It was kind of more shock than anything, but after it settled in and I realized what was going on, I was excited. It’s going to be a great opportunity for me. I already love it, and all the guys are great. All the coordinators and coaches are great. So I’m looking forward to it,” Swanson said.
Having his teammate, Tate come along for the ride is also helping Swanson make the transition to the Yankees organization. “It’s one of those things. We walked out of the meeting when we were told. You realized what just happened. We just got traded to the Yankees. We just kind of just both smiled and laughed about. But it’s made the transition much easier and he’s a funny guy, we get along really well.”
For now, there’s a feeling out process for Swanson as far as his new organization goes. “I think for right now, I think they’re just trying to watch me and figure me out a little bit. And obviously, if they see something, they’ll let me know. But I think right now, I think they’re just trying to get a feel for me as I am with them,” Swanson said when asked if the Yankees had asked him to work on anything specific.
In his first start for the RiverDogs, Swanson did struggle, giving up three runs in four innings, while walking three as well. He picked up the loss. “I just had trouble getting ahead of hitters, which hurt me. Obviously, I walked three guys; that’s what you never want to do, but it happens. I gave up a few hits here and there after walking guys. I also gave up two stolen bases; I just did a few things that didn’t help myself out. All in all, I felt great the whole outing, which I think was my biggest thing I wanted to see.”
Some of the troubles he encountered could be attributed to the lack of work due to the timing of the trade. “It was the longest I had gone the whole year without throwing, so it was a bit different, but I felt great, I was able to make a few pitches that helped me out. I also made a few pitches that didn’t, but that’s a part of it,” Swanson said when asked about whether the hiatus affected his command. Swanson did regain command of his slider and fastball in the third and fourth innings before running into trouble in the fifth, and the end of his evening.
As for the rest of the season, Swanson is looking to stay healthy and build up his arm strength. “The main goal is to continue to stay healthy, finish out. How many innings they want me to throw is what I’m going to do. Once the season is over, after my next outing, whatever they want next is what’ll happen. As far as right now, the main thing for me is to finish the year strong.”