The Orioles collected another candidate for the back of the 2020 rotation competition on Sunday afternoon, announcing the signing of former #4 overall pick Kohl Stewart to an MLB contract.
Stewart was the Twins top pick in the 2013 draft, the same one where the Orioles chose Hunter Harvey. He’s appeared in 17 games at the MLB level over the past two seasons, with a mix of starting and bullpen work in the bigs. His 2019 results probably explain why he was cast away from his first team, with a 6.39 ERA over 25.1 innings.
Between both of his MLB seasons, Stewart has only struck out 34 batters in 62 innings. That’s just not a recipe for success in the modern game.
According to Fangraphs pitch data, Stewart has a fastball that averages about 92 miles per hour, and is chiefly a fastball-slider pitcher. He’s still only 25 years old, so there’s time for him to regain the kind of form that led him to be a #4 overall pick in 2013 and a top 50 prospect before the 2015 season.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported that Stewart is receiving a split contract from the O’s, which will pay him $800,000 if he is on the MLB team. That means that the Orioles will be able to option Stewart to the minors and keep him there for either depth or development purposes.
Stewart’s 2019 Triple-A numbers were also not great and also explain why the competing Twins moved on from their former top pick. In 92 innings for Triple-A Rochester, Stewart posted a 5.14 ERA and 1.473 WHIP. The WHIP was so high because he was walking too many dudes, with 44 walks issued out of 414 batters faced. That’ll get you from a 101-win team to a 108-loss team.
One of those baseball sayings is, “Once a first round pick, always a first round pick.” It is not universally true, but in general, the same things that inspired one organization to take a player high in the draft will convince another one to take a chance on a guy who hasn’t hit that potential yet. Maybe the new Orioles pitching program will be able to do something with Stewart that the Twins couldn’t.
The only real cost to the Orioles is a 40-man roster spot. They designated right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan for assignment as they announced the Stewart signing. Unless you are a friend or family member of Diplan, you likely forgot that he existed. Diplan, 23, walked 44 men in 68.2 innings at the Double-A level last season. That gets you on and off the roster of a 108-loss team in the span of the same offseason.