Twenty years ago, Detroit Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart would have been a gem of a prospect. The 24-year-old has a sturdy build and has hit for plenty of power in each of his minor league stops so far. This includes an impressive season at Double-A Erie in 2017, when he hit 28 home runs in 136 games. While he has only hit .262 in his minor league career, the power and patience he provides would have left teams salivating.
These days, that profile isn’t quite as valuable. Stewart should hit for power and get on base at the major league level, but he isn’t a great runner and his defense is below-average at best. He doesn’t fit quite as well in the modern game, even as someone who could capably fill the designated hitter role for years to come. Teams value speed and versatility more than ever, and Stewart doesn’t have those things.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the game, though. With plus raw power and a sharp eye at the plate, Stewart will still carve out a big league career — perhaps even a fairly profitable one. But his chances at being a true star with a fairly limited profile might be a thing of the past.
The Tigers drafted Stewart with a supplemental first round pick in 2015 after he had a productive career at Tennessee. He had broken out with 15 home runs and a 1.076 OPS in an excellent junior season, but some questioned how his power would play in professional ball. Stewart quickly put those concerns to rest, hitting 10 home runs in 301 plate appearances across three levels to close out the 2015 season.
The real breakout came in 2016, though. Stewart started the season on fire, and hit 24 home runs in 442 plate appearances with a 16.7 percent walk rate at High-A Lakeland. This was especially impressive given the environment, as the Florida State League is notoriously pitcher-friendly. While he faded a bit after a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie, he bounced back with the aforementioned 28 home runs and .836 OPS for the SeaWolves in 2017.
Stewart’s carrying tool is his plus raw power, a skill that he has better tapped into during games at the pro level. MLB Pipeline was impressed with Stewart’s power, saying he “can drive the ball out of the park, and for extra bases, to all fields.” TigsTown’s Chris Brown echoed these sentiments when he ranked Stewart as the best power hitter in the Tigers’ system.
He is blessed with easy plus raw power, and he can put backspin on the ball and send it over the fence in any direction thanks to powerful arms, strong wrists, and a short stroke.
In games, Stewart has done most of his damage to the pull field, with a high number of his home runs coming down the right field line.
Supplementing Stewart’s power is a good eye at the plate. He drew walks in 10.1 percent of his plate appearances at Double-A last year, and posted even better walk rates in the lower minors. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels praised Stewart’s “good feel for the strike zone” when he ranked him eighth in the Tigers’ system. However, plate discipline was actually one of the concerns about his game when he was drafted, but MLB Pipeline noted the improvements Stewart has made over the past couple years.
There will always be some swing and miss to his game, but he did cut down his strikeout rate a touch in 2017 and he does offset the whiffs by drawing a good amount of walks. He has worked on his overall approach and tried to cut down on his swing to allow him to tap into his tremendous raw power consistently.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted that Stewart “has become shorter to the ball” back in 2016, which has also helped his barrel stay in the zone a little longer. Stewart probably won’t hit for a high average at the major league level, but there’s plenty of value in his combination of power and plate discipline.
Stewart should be a plus with the bat, but he might be just as big of a minus with the glove. He has been slated for left field since he was drafted, and many think he might have to move even further down the defensive ladder. While MLB Pipeline praised Stewart’s efforts to improve defensively, they still graded his glove and arm as below average tools. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels noted that Stewart “usually catches what he gets to,” but also labeled the glove and arm below average. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen all but penciled Stewart in as a DH, though that report is a couple years old.
Part of the problem is Stewart’s below average speed. While he has a fairly athletic build at 6’0 and 205 pounds, he is already a below average runner and will probably get slower as he ages. There aren’t many notes about his instincts on the basepaths, but as we’ve seen with plodders like Miguel Cabrera, even great instincts don’t make you a great baserunner.
Projected team: Triple-A Toledo
Stewart has capably handled Double-A ball, hitting .250/.331/.493 with 34 home runs in 160 games at that level. He will start the season at Triple-A, with an eye on making his major league debut in 2018. While his lackluster glove might delay that date a bit, his bat will ultimately determine when he is called up. He might not carve out an everyday role this year, but being able to rotate between left field and the DH spot in 2019 should earn him regular at-bats in Detroit next season.
h/t Baseball Census for the video