When the Detroit Tigers selected outfielder Christin Stewart in the first round of the 2015 draft, they were banking on Stewart’s bat. He was projected to have the potential to turn into a solid middle-of-the-order hitter. In 2016, that potential began to emerge in a big way. Stewart started last season with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. He spent the majority of the year there on his way to a .264 batting average, a .270 isolated power (ISO) and 25 home runs. On the power front, it was certainly a breakout year for Stewart.
What Stewart does, he does well. The main attraction here is the power that comes in his bat, and that power is very real. ESPN’s Keith Law, one of the foremost prospect evaluators in the industry, is sold on the power, saying kind things about him in his report on the outfielder.
Stewart is a power and patience guy, limited to left field, but showing a real ability to drive the ball to all fields that raises him above all of the dead-pull/low-contact guys who populate the low minors. ... There's real 30-homer potential here, although it might be a .240/.350/.450 kind of line given his contact rates in the minors and his need to stay back in the box.
Not only did the power show up last year, but Stewart has shown promise in his ability to adjust his swing as he has moved up the ranks. Although not everyone agrees with Law’s assessment about his ability to drive the ball to all fields. Just ask Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs.
Stewart has improved his hitter’s timing in pro ball, and has become shorter to the ball due to a more conservative load while still generating considerable power because of his natural strength and big extension. His barrel can drag at times, leading to weak pop ups, and most of his good contact comes exclusively to the pull side, something that may cause teams to shift him at upper levels.
Stewart does have some bat control and, despite the swing and miss he’s shown to this point, I’m somewhat optimistic about his ability to make adjustments and improve his ability to make contact moving forward because he’s already shown that he can do it.
Stewart’s power isn’t the only thing to get excited about. When he was drafted in 2015, there were concerns surrounding his plate discipline in addition to his defense and strikeouts. He put those concerns about his willingness to take a walk soundly to sleep in 2016. He managed a .403 on-base percentage with Lakeland last season. This was in large part thanks to his ability to take a walk, as he drew 74 in 442 plate appearances (a 16.7 percent rate). As you can see in this chart, more of his plate appearances ended in a strikeout or walk than any other outcome.
It seems he is showing, not only discipline at the plate, but also an ability to adjust to what pitchers are giving him, as he mentioned in an article from Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press in July.
The pitchers are trying to make me hit their pitch. They try not to leave anything up in the zone. I just have to take every at bat and battle every bat and try to get to deep counts — eventually see something that I can do something with. The pitchers here are really good. They have a lot of good off-speed pitches and stuff. You just got to have patience and take what they give me.
As good as his walk rate looks, Stewart’s strikeout rate looks almost as bad. In 216 plate appearances with the Whitecaps in 2015, Stewart maintained an average strikeout rate of 20.8 percent. That number jumped up pretty substantially in 2016. His strikeout rate at High-A Lakeland was just shy of 24 percent, and jumped to 27 percent when he made the jump to Double-A Erie.
Defensively, he has his issues as well. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen explained them well in his evaluation of the left fielder.
The profile gets muddied when considering Stewart’s defensive profile. He doesn’t have one. Opinions from scouts regarding the defense range from ‘he’s a liability out there’ to ‘he’s a DH’. Considering Stewart’s body and current speed, he does appear likely to either be, at best, a 40 defender in left field or a DH-only.
His defensive issues stem both from his stone-fisted way with the glove, and from a weak throwing arm. For all the power he puts into his swing, he has little to offer in his throws, making him an even worse defender. While a defender’s arm usually isn’t a huge deal, it makes a difference with a player like Stewart. Not only will more singles drop that other fielders might snag, but even moderately quick baserunners can stretch a gimme single into a skin-of-the-teeth double.
Jacob’s Scouting Report:
Projected Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Stewart took quite a large step forward in 2016, earning all-star honors and an invitation to the MiLB Futures Game. He will likely start the season where he left off in 2016, at Double-A Erie. He appears to be working pretty hard this offseason, but he still needs time to fine-tune his hitting craft. He probably will not see much time in Triple-A due to the glut of outfielders already in Toledo. Working on maintaining his swing is a priority, as is building on his power, which will be his main calling card if he’s going to continue to move up the ranks of the Tigers organization.
Credit: Baseball America