Christin Stewart can hit home runs.
A lot of them as a matter of fact. Yet, nearly three years into his professional career, he lingers in Double-A, raking the hide off of baseballs.
Stewart was one of the compensation picks when they lost Max Scherzer to free agency. The Detroit Tigers selected him 34th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft after a big junior campaign at Tennessee. He transformed from a gap-to-gap hitter who blasted 19 doubles and five home runs as a sophomore to a straight-up slugger in his final season. He bombed 15 home runs with a .443 on base percentage, aided by 15 hit by pitches.
He climbed to full-season ball in his draft year and hit nine doubles and seven home runs in just 51 games with West Michigan. Stewart went right to High-A in his second season. After raking 22 doubles and 24 home runs — with an impressive 16.7 percent walk rate that made his 23.8 percent strikeout rate acceptable — he jumped to Double-A.
That’s where the fast-track has seemingly come to a halt.
John Sickels likes his bat. With the drafting of Alex Faedo and the addition of Jeimer Candelario, Stewart may have dropped a bit, but John had him the best offensive prospect in the Tigers system, No. 2 overall this preseason:
…hit .255/.386/.517 with 30 homers, 86 walks, 131 strikeouts in 443 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; 60-grade power with patient approach will make him productive even with a low batting average; I believe in the bat, but everyone questions his glove and they are right to do so; lacks speed/range, lacks instincts, arm mediocre; doesn’t make tons of errors but definitely limited to left field and can’t afford to lose more mobility; ETA 2018.
I saw Stewart in person for the first time at the Eastern League All Star Classic in New Hampshire. His swing immediately stood out to me. It’s not a typical cleanup hitter-slugger stance. Part of the reason is that the left-hander is just 6-foot, 205 pounds, so much more Mike Moustakas than Giancarlo Stanton in build.
He gets crouched, knees slightly bent inwards, with his right foot slightly open. The bat is curled with a little twirl, and he takes a short, quick swing through the zone. As I was watching batting practice, I was told he used to have much more length to his swing, so he has made adjustments along the way. He keeps his back elbow up, and barley takes a step into the ball, muscling balls around the field.
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The 23-year-old was aggressive that night. He struck out on four-pitches in his first at bat, and drove a single on a 1-1 count in his second. It’s important to remember that it was an All Star Game, so there were some pretty decent pitches from which to choose. As John mentioned, he seems to be patient at the plate overall. And he seems to average double-digit HBPs per season as well (he has six this season after registering 13 and 10 the past two seasons respectively). As with Ray-Patrick Didder, that always fascinates me and seems like there is an art to it.
Stewart is almost all pull with his power, but can go the other way. He also has a lot of swing-and-miss in him, however he has proven that he can take a walk. He is on pace to crush his high in strikeouts for a season, currently at 124 after striking out 131 times last year. Still, he has walked 50 times in 478 plate appearances, as always above ten percent of the time.
His batting averages have been traditionally low, but he also hasn’t had a high BABIP since arriving in Double-A last season. That may have to do with his ground ball rate (35.2 percent) being reasonably lower than his fly ball rate (43.3 percent). This seems to be the norm throughout his career, though this season the splits are actually much closer than in the past.
Speaking of splits, he seems to handle both lefties and righties pretty evenly without much of a fall off on either side statistically. The home and away splits are the one’s that catch your eye, however. Erie’s home ball park sat right in the middle of the pack as far as hitter-friendliness over the past three seasons, but it has been very friendly to Stewart. He’s slashing .294/.383/.627 with 15 doubles and 17 of his home runs. His home 1.011 OPS comes back to earth when paired with a .677 road OPS.
Stewart’s biggest setback is his defense. He has a strong enough arm — logging 13 assists over the past two seasons — and doesn’t make errors, but also doesn’t have the range. He certainly has the big left-handed bat to profile for his current left field position. Those that I’ve spoken to that watched him with regularity, however, feel his quickest route is as a designated hitter or even possibly as a first baseman. Again, he certainly has the bat right now to make the switch.
The Tigers are certainly hoping to avoid another Steven Moya conundrum, with another immense power bat of the Quad-A sorts. While the Tigers have put the breaks on Stewart’s fast train the Detroit, change is also in the air. Everyday brings new trade rumors and a rebuild is seemingly on the horizon. Without much depth in the system, a strong start with Toledo in 2018, Stewart’s big league chance should not be far away.