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Orioles prospect season in review: D.J. Stewart

Taking a look at the 2015 first-round pick’s first full season in professional baseball.

Take one look at the current state of the Orioles organization and it doesn’t take long to reach one very clear conclusion: this ball club could use help in the outfield. The system as a whole is without depth at every outfield spot, a large reason why the club drafted D.J. Stewart in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft.

After a 2015 short-season campaign in Aberdeen in which the now 22-year-old hit just .218 with the Ironbirds, we were all anxious to see just how much the former Seminole would improve entering the 2016 season.

And through his first 62 games of the season in Delmarva, it didn’t appear as if Stewart’s transition to the pros was going any better.

In those games, he hit just .230, slugging a measly .352. Now, that wouldn’t have been a surprise, of course, if in his 2015 season at FSU he didn’t lead the team in both average (.318) and slugging percentage (.593). Through much of June, the box scores didn’t add up to any type of sustained success, showing numbers that would concern for any prospect.

But as the baseball traditionalist tell us so many times — you can’t always trust the box score. Sure, the game of baseball is an analytics-driven sport, but sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. Apparently, in Stewart’s case, that’s absolutely the truth.

On June 23rd he was promoted to Frederick and saw terrific success in the Carolina League.

In 59 games with the Keys, Stewart slashed .279/.389/.448, hitting six home runs and driving in 30 RBI. He hit left-handers much better after the leap and continued to do what he did best with the Seminoles — draw walks.

Here’s a stat: in 183 minor-league games, Stewart has walked 101 times. In 652 at-bats, that’s a 15% walk percentage. That’s either teams avoiding Stewart all together or an elite-level pitch selection, with the latter providing the greater likelihood.

Stewart’s improved numbers at Frederick muddy the situation significantly, and undoubtedly leave us wondering what he’ll add up to in the 2017 season. MLB first-round picks aren’t expected to classically be slow-movers in minor-league systems, despite the recent history with the Orioles telling us otherwise.

It’s way too early to look at Stewart at a bust. However, question marks still loom large over the 2015 first-rounder.

One would imagine that next season provides what should be a turning point in Stewart’s overall outlook as a prospect. Either he’ll continue to improve upon his successes at Frederick, or he’ll return to the form he began the 2016 season with, thus inching him slightly closer to the "bust" label.