D.J. Stewart’s rise up the Orioles minor-league ranks has been as heavily spotlighted as anyone else in the system over the past few seasons, on par with expectations from first-round selections. The team selected the former Florida State standout with eyes to the future — a future that ideally would fill a permanent corner outfield spot at Camden Yards for seasons to come.
And while the Orioles have done plenty of work to fill those holes this season, there’s still a future long-term opening in the outfield, one that seems to be Stewart’s to fill if he continues to progress on track.
2015’s debut was a shaky one with the Ironbirds, working just a .211/.288/.345 slash line with Aberdeen in his first season following the Draft. On the surface, it seemed to be an underwhelming performance that would be cause for concern, but at the dish Stewart was undergoing fundamental changes in his approach, namely an attempt to lessen his crouch at the plate.
“I’ve been working on the stance change since I got drafted,” he said, noting that the adjustment period was significant. “It’s something that the organization just feels like I’ll have more success in the long run, a more sustainable future that way.”
In an offseason scouting report from Bernie Pleskoff, the former MLB scout noted that he wasn’t entirely sold that Stewart was comfortable at the dish following the work put in to adjust his stance.
Whatever the case may be, Stewart says he’s happy with the way power has returned to his game — and for what numbers are worth, they certainly tend to speak to the idea that Stewart’s adjustment is coming along quite fine. The slugging ability he flashed with the Seminoles is returning to his game in massive gains:
- 2015 (Ironbirds, 62 games): 6 HR, .345 slugging percentage
- 2016 (Delmarva/Frederick, 121 games): 10 HR, .399 slugging percentage
- 2017 (Bowie, 40 games): 7 HR, .467 slugging percentage
For Stewart, balancing the adjustments and staying true to “his game” is a challenge, but it’s become easier as he’s progressed and gained more reps at the pro ball level. He’s not shied away from the advice from coaches throughout the organization, rather he’s embraced it. According to the 23-year-old, taking steps forward at the plate requires an ability to know when to cling on to advice when it’s needed the most.
“You have to remain humble and remain the player that you are, but take everyone’s advice who is trying to help you and take the good things out that help you,” he said.
“I have a lot of great coaches around me who have a lot of great experience, so you listen to what everyone has to say and some things are going click for you and some things aren’t. The things that click, you work on them. The things they don’t, you just kind of let those go so you can move on to the next thing that’s going to get you better.”
As the approach at the plate appears to be coming into focus in his third year with the Orioles, one area of Stewart’s game that has been greeted by some with skepticism is his abilities in the outfield. In the scouting report linked above, Pleskoff described Stewart’s arm as “fringy at best”, calling him “adequate” in left field.
Those aren’t exactly glowing reviews, but Stewart’s overall outfield play has never been written off all together, especially coming out of Florida State. His athleticism seemed to be the most underrated part of his overall game, perhaps in part due to his power-hitting abilities at the dish.
In Stewart’s mind, the goal still remains simple — work on his outfield craft every day to help grow his game and ultimately prove that he can stick in the big leagues as an every-day outfielder. In an era where more and more young prospects are pegged for a strict designated hitter role, the former ACC standout says he knows his abilities are continuing to sharpen.
He even notes that winning a MLB Gold Glove is one of his long-term targets.
“I think that a lot of times scouting reports could be that they see a guy maybe one time. They don’t see him every single day, they don’t see the work that he puts in. They don’t see him every single night going out there and making plays, and that’s something I pride myself on because people kind of put that label of ‘he can hit’, so they don’t look at the defense as much.”
Regardless of the projections, Stewart keeps moving forward, improving on consistency throughout his game in his journey to Major League Baseball. He’s compiled eight hits in his past five games, including his seventh home run of the year on Tuesday night.
The outfield prospect might not be garner the national attention on prospect rankings, but that’s not the ultimate goal. For now, Stewart is enjoying the process and seeing his production continue to help the Baysox win baseball games. It’s now all about putting everything together in his third year in the system to accomplish one major goal.
“The ultimate goal is not double-A, it’s not triple-A,” he said. “The ultimate goal is the big leagues and not just to get there, it’s to stay there. So, that’s what I’m working for – to get there, to stay there and contribute to the Orioles and help them win baseball games.”