Not a Rookie: Ian Stewart
Colorado Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart hasn't lived up to the expectations he generated during his minor league career. Let's take a look at his background as a prospect, as well as what the future may hold.
Ian Stewart was drafted in the first round by the Rockies, 10th overall, in the 2003 draft. Out of high school in Garden Grove, California, Stewart was considered a highly-promising hitter who would produce both batting average and power, but his glove was questionable at third base. He hit .317/.401/.558 in 57 games for Casper in the Pioneer League, being named the top prospect in the circuit by Baseball America. I gave him a Grade B in my 2004 book, noting that defense was the big question but I expected him to be an excellent hitter.
Sent to Asheville in the Sally League for 2004, Stewart had an outstanding campaign: .319/.398/.594, 30 homers, 101 RBI, 19 steals, 66 walks with 112 strikeouts in 505 at-bats. His defense took a big step forward, with improved range and reliability, and talk that he would move to first base or the outfield died out. Although I was aware that his friendly home park boosted his numbers, I was still impressed enough with the overall package to give him a Grade A, ranking him as the Number Three hitting prospect on my Top 50 list.
He took a step back in 2005, hitting .274/.353/.497 in the California League for Modesto, his OPS dropping from +34 percent the previous season down to +5. Injuries were a factor: he had a bad hamstring and a sore wrist for much of the season, limiting him to 112 games and keeping him from being 100% much of the time. His defense took a step backward, too. . .which also could have been injury related. I lowered his rating a notch to Grade A-, but he retained a strong ranking as the Number 15 hitting prospect.
2006 did not go well, and injuries weren't a factor this time. He played 120 games for Double-A Tulsa, hitting .268/.351/.452 with 41 doubles but just 10 homers. Scouts and Rockies officials reported that he was having problems with his swing mechanics, which had become too long and mechanical. The theory was that Stewart was trying too hard to hit home runs. I wrote in the book, "it is an old principle, when you TRY to do something too hard, it gets away from you." He did make progress on defense and still projected as a solid defender. Perhaps being stubborn, I still gave him a Grade B+ and had him at Number 26 on my prospect list.
Moved up to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Stewart hit .304/.379/.478 with 15 homers, 49 walks, and 92 strikeouts in 414 at-bats. He hit .209/.261/.372 in 35 games for the Rockies, but this was just 43 at-bats due to part-time/pinch-hitting usage. Here is the book comment I wrote in the '08 edition, which laid out the story on Stewart nicely.
"Which Ian Stewart you see depends on his biorhythms, the alignment of Venus with the fourth house, or something else esoteric. At times he shows a balanced swing, takes pitches to all fields and handles breaking stuff and changeups as well as fastball. Other times, he's an excessively-pull-conscious swing-from-the-heels guy, trying to knock a seven-run homer on every pitch, killing fastballs but flailing at breaking stuff. . .I'm not exactly sure what will happen here. You can sketch a future where he learns to stay within himself and develops into a .300+, 15-20 homer hitter. You can draw one where he sells out for power, hits in the .240-.250 range with 20-25 homers. You can even paint one where he never finds the right balance and drifts between Triple-A and the majors for ten years. My guess is that he winds up halfway between the first two scenarios, hitting in the .270s and averaging 18 homers per year."
I gave him a Grade B.
Stewart split '08 between Triple-A (.280/.372/.607) and the majors (.259/.349/.455). Last year he adopted the "sell out for power" approach, hitting just .228 with 138 strikeouts in 425 at-bats, but hitting 25 homers. This year he's at .257/.338/.411 so far, with seven homers in 62 games. His career mark: .243/.330/.446, +96 OPS, averaging 21 homers per 162 games. At least his defense at third base has settled in as solid.
Stewart hasn't lived up to his early potential, and many people think he just got lucky in the Sally League back in '04. However, keep in mind that he's still just 25 years old. The list of players similar to Stewart to this point in his career is very interesting.
SIM SCORE Comps: Gary Gaetti, Mark Reynolds, Mike Schmidt, Mark Teahen, Tim Wallach, Steve Buechele, Joe Foy, Jose Cruz, Bill Sudakis, and Darnell Coles.
PECOTA Comps: Mark Reynolds, Josh Fields, Ron Gant, Greg Norton, Gary Gaetti, Russ Davis, Orestes Destrade, Franklin Stubbs, Mike Fuentes.
There are some duds there, but some pretty good players, too, including a Hall of Famer and some very solid long-term players like Gaetti and Wallach.
I don't pretend to know what will happen with Stewart. The historical parallels show a very wide range of possible outcomes. Basically, I think what I wrote back in '08 is still apt.