After a nice cup of coffee in 2018, Christin Stewart was exposed in his first full season in the major leagues. The 25-year-old rookie has hit very well at every level of the minors, but stalled out after winning the starting left fielder job out of spring training. In the midst of a rebuild that’s based around young pitching talent, the Tigers need an offensive prospect like Stewart to a step forward, but unfortunately that step wasn’t taken in 2019.
Stewart hit the ball well during his initial 17-game stint in Detroit in 2018. In 72 plate appearances, he posted 119 wRC+ which was made up of two home runs, an OBP of .375, and a SLG of .417. Unfortunately that success did not carry over into 2019. His season started with a bang, hitting a game-winning home run on the road in Toronto in the Opening Series, but that ended up being the high point. His 2018 numbers never came close to being matched, and he finished 2019 with -1.4 fWAR, good for 37th out of 38 major league left fielders with at least 350 plate appearances.
In 416 plate appearance Stewart was only worth 80 wRC+, and his OBP and SLG plummeted to .305 and .388. Though he had occasional flashes of power — he hit 10 home runs — his .154 ISO wasn’t nearly the routine .200+ ISO he posted in every full season in the minors. Among those same 38 left fielders, Stewart clocked in at 35th in wRC+. Only Jake Bauers, Raimel Tapia and former Tiger Curtis Granderson (sad face emoji) were worse offensively. At a position that demands offense, Stewart failed to be a reliable force in the middle of the order.
The biggest issue with Stewart coming into the season was his defense. The Tigers knew they were getting a bat-first corner outfielder when they selected him 34th overall in the 2015 amateur draft, but his metrics show someone who might be headed for a career as a designated hitter — that is if he’s able to stick in the majors at all.
While defensive statistics are, shall we say, inconsistent at best and useless at worst, all of Stewart’s agreed on one thing: he was really bad. Stewart posted a UZR of -8.3 and a DRS of -3. I’m not going to pretend to know how defensive WAR works on FanGraphs, but in that department he was worth -13.6 runs, and he looked every bit that poor.
Given Stewart’s defensive struggles, he’s going to need to put up massive numbers at the plate to counteract that. That certainly wasn’t the case in 2019, and he might already be running out of chances to prove that he can be an asset. At the end of July, Stewart suffered a concussion that caused him to miss time while on the injured list. After a rehab assignment in Triple-A Toledo, he was activated on August 22nd and optioned until September 1st with Ron Gardenhire saying “defensively, he’s got to get better”. Although he received regular playing time in September, being optioned to work on defense in Toledo during a no-pressure season in Detroit isn’t exactly a vote of confidence from the organization.
Christin Stewart had a forgettable rookie season with the Tigers, which really fits in nicely with the theme of 2019 for the team. Still, he’s young and has a track record of hitting in the minors. 2020 will be a big year for Stewart. If nothing else, his youth should allow him every opportunity to prove himself at the major league level. With another season of low expectations ahead, a productive year would go a long way in providing the Tigers the evidence they need to see to once again believe that he can be a contributor on the next competitive team.