BALTIMORE—Fans have been eager for the Orioles to promote some of their best position player prospects. The first to move up is outfielder DJ Stewart.
Stewart was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday, replacing Chris Davis, who is on the 10-day injured list because of an inflamed left hip. Stewart played right field in Tuesday night’s game against Detroit and had hits in his first three at-bats before striking out on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth.
Stewart has been sizzling in May, batting .456 with a .512 on-base percentage and .882 slugging percentage. His May OPS of 1.395 leads all of minor league baseball.
Overall, the 25-year-old Stewart is hitting .316 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.
Several weeks ago, Stewart had an early hitting session with Norfolk manager Gary Kendall and hitting coach Butch Davis, and things took off from there.
“Something clicked for me, the way they worded things,” Stewart said.
Last season, Stewart was a late addition to a bad team that was short on outfielders. He didn’t have an especially good season with the Tides, and had been home when he got a call to join the Orioles.
Despite beginning his major league career without a hit in 13 at-bats, he ended the season hitting .250 (10-for-40) with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
Stewart was an early cut in spring training, and manager Brandon Hyde give him a to-do list.
“They gave me specific things to work on,” Stewart said. “That was a goal of mine to go down there and work on those, and show that I could do it.”
The Tides’ Harbor Park is not a hitter-friendly park, as Stewart found out in 2018.
“Playing at Norfolk with the wind blowing in, you try to hit the ball farther than you need to because sometimes you get the ball knocked down by the wind,” Stewart said. “[Sometimes I’m] trying to do too much, not realizing that I’m strong enough to just relax and hit the ball, and if I barrel up the ball consistently enough, it’s going to go.”
Last September, Stewart was happy to get the call to come to the Orioles, but being part of a 25-man roster is much different than part of a bloated roster at the end of a 115-loss season.
“I’ve never had that experience where the manager calls you into his office, and tells you that you’re coming up here,” Stewart said. “You always have that picture in your head of the manager calling you into the office …. It’s more special that way.”
Hyde will play Stewart in right and left field.
“DJ’s definitely earned his way here,” Hyde said. “What we told a lot of those guys in our exit meetings at spring training was, ‘Go down to Triple-A with a chip on your shoulder, prove to everybody that you should be in the big leagues and do everything you can to get back here.’ DJ did that.”
During spring training, Hyde was impressed with the Orioles’ young outfielders. Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays have had their seasons hampered by injuries, but Stewart has been healthy and productive.
“You can only control what you can control,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to continue to play wherever you’re at. I know they’re watching, and they’re trying to find a way of getting me here. It’s nothing against them at all. It’s a business, and they have to find the right opportunity. I’m glad it happened sooner rather than later.
“The way I’ve been swinging the bat, I figured out a few things about myself, how to play the game, be an everyday player. That’s one of the things I’m ready to show I can do up here.”
Last week, general manager Mike Elias said that he expected Stewart to be up with the team relatively soon. He also said that he expected catcher Chance Sisco, who got an extended look last season and was a late cut in spring training, to be with the Orioles in the near future, too.
Pitcher Keegan Akin and infielder Ryan Mountcastle are expected to get lengthier looks in their first season at Triple-A.
“We’ve had a lot of movement so far, the majority of it has been pitching, kind of shuttling guys,” Hyde said. “This is a position player that’s going to get a lot of at-bats. I think DJ is a part of the future. He’s going to swing the bat well. I just don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”
Fans hope that Stewart’s addition will be the precursor to others joining the Orioles in 2019.
The severity of Davis’ hip injury isn’t known, and Mark Trumbo just began his rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie. Still, Stewart has a chance to stay.
“I think whenever you get a fresh face in here, it energizes everybody,” Hyde said. “I liked watching him play in spring training. I love the way he plays.
“He plays so hard, he runs down the line hard, He plays defense aggressively. He played really well in spring training, even though his offensive numbers didn’t show it. I thought his at-bats were really good, and I told him that when we sent him out. I’m looking forward to hm playing the same way and bringing some energy to our club.”