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Sleeper Prospect: D.J. Stewart, OF, Baltimore Orioles

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Well post hype, Stewart still has eyes on the big leagues

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

First round picks will always come with high expectations and a pretty short leash among fans. Instant gratification is expected when your team invests one of their top draft picks in you. This holds especially true for players coming out of college. Already at least 20 years old, the clock has begun ticking on their pro career.

D.J. Stewart was once selected out of high school — by the New York Yankees in 2012’s 28th round— but opted for college and played baseball at Florida State.

Born in Gainesville, Florida and after attending high school in Jacksonville, Stewart became a star for the Seminoles and moved from round 28 to pick 25 in the entire MLB Draft in 2015.

ACC Player of the Year as a sophomore, Stewart brought an extremely high-upside bat to the pro’s. Drafted by an American League team in the Baltimore Orioles, many had him pegged as the O’s future designated hitter.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A rather pessimistic forecast on defense, but his bat and batter’s eye are the key to his future.

After stumbling out of the gates in 2015, immediately slotting into Short-A, Stewart hit it off far better in 2016 for Low-A Delmarva. He hit just .230 but compromised a low batting average with a .366 OBP, walking 42 times in 62 games. He also stole 16 bases and would steal 10 more after his promotion to High-A Frederick.

The numbers weren’t sparkling but the Orioles chose the aggressive path with the 22-year old. He answered the call in force, slashing .279/.389/.448 for the Keys, driving in 30 runs across 59 games, walking 36 more times and playing all three outfield spots (mostly left field) along with the 10 stolen bags.

In the Arizona Fall League for Peoria, he walks 19 more times in 22 games. Stewart walks with ease but also strikes out a little too much at the moment. Nevertheless getting on base in many more ways than hitting is his meal ticket to the next levels.

Despite a bounce back campaign in 2016, Stewart had largely been passed by in the organization by the likes of fellow outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and to some Randolph Gassaway as well.

Even still, his career trajectory dictated a move up to Double-A in 2017. With a very, very strong season for Bowie, the former first round pick’s stock is starting to look like its old self.

Now 23, Stewart hit .278 with a .378 OBP and .481 slugging percentage, adjusting beautifully to the critical minor league level. In 126 games, the Floridan’s plate discipline remained a factor as he finished fourth in the Eastern League with 65 walks. He also reduced his strikeout rate significantly, whiffing 87 times in 457 at-bats, compared to 104 Ks in 414 at-bats in ‘16.

220 total bases was good for fifth, 20 steals tying for sixth and 21 home runs eighth in the league. He played mostly left field again but also spent some time in right.

Another year with a lot of offense could force D.J. Stewart onto Baltimore’s youth-starved depth chart.