Stewart might have a final chance to impress Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Stewart might have a final chance to impress Orioles

 

DJ Stewart got his most extensive playing time in the major leagues in 2021 before his season ended in September because of a right knee injury that required surgery.

Stewart was the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2015, the 25th pick overall, but he’s yet to fulfill expectations.

As an outfielder, his defense is weak. He had a -1.3 Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season and made four errors in 72 games in left and right field.

At bat, Stewart has demonstrated a discerning eye and a poor average. His batting average was .204 this past season. In his four-year career, he has hit .214. But his lifetime on-base percentage is .329 because of his propensity to walk. In 2021, Stewart walked 44 times and struck out 89 times. He also hit 12 home runs.

If you combine the so-called “three true outcomes,” walks, strikeouts and home runs, Stewart had one of them in 45.6 percent of his plate appearances, a high number.

Perhaps the highlight of Stewart’s time with the Orioles came from September 5th-11th, 2020 when he hit six home runs in six games, raising his batting average to .278. His average plummeted to .193 when he finished the season in a 7-for-52 slump.

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Stewart never got going this past season. His best power months came in May when he hit four homers and drove in 10 runs, hitting .220 with an .800 OPS, and in August when he hit four homers with seven RBIs, hitting .205 with a .931 OPS.

There doesn’t appear to be a place for Stewart to play regularly for the Orioles. With Cedric Mullins in center, Austin Hays in left and Anthony Santander in right, Ryan Mountcastle at first base and Trey Mancini at designated hitter, the team seems set at those positions.

Ryan McKenna, who spent much of the season with the team, filled a useful role as a fourth outfielder, defensive specialist and pinch-runner.

With the exception of Santander, who was a Rule 5 draft pick in 2016, all of the players are products of the Orioles’ farm system.

Stewart’s time with the Orioles has been disappointing, but it might not be over. He’s not eligible for arbitration and, unless the Orioles sign someone from the outside, there might still be a roster spot for him.

The best outfield prospect is Kyle Stowers, whose stint for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League ended over the weekend when the club announced he had a lower back injury and went home to rest and prepare for spring training.

Stowers hit 27 home runs, drove in 85 runs and had a .278 average and .897 OPS at High-A Aberdeen, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He played just 22 games with the Tides and is likely to return there to begin 2022.

The Orioles hoped that outfielder Yusniel Diaz would be in the major leagues by now, but after an awful 2021 season, he, too, was sent to the Arizona Fall League to regain his hitting stroke. Diaz hit a combined .161 at Norfolk and Bowie.

The Orioles could add Robert Neustrom, their fifth-round draft pick in 2018 to the 40-man roster next month, but he’s hardly a finished product. Neustrom, like Stewart, is a left-handed hitter. In his 64 games with Norfolk, Neustrom hit just .232 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs. He had a .748 OPS.

Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias has avoided signing veteran outfielders, spending his energy on pitching and infielders. Instead of free-agent outfielders, Elias has drafted them in the early rounds, with Stowers (2019) and the last two top picks, Heston Kjerstad in 2020 and Colton Cowser in 2021.

Kjerstad whose debut has been delayed by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, is in Sarasota, Florida, working in the Fall Instructional League Camp. The team hopes he’ll be ready to play for an affiliate next year.

Cowser, who’s also in Sarasota, had a strong start to his pro career — .347, 1 home run, 26 RBIs and a .904 OPS in 25 games for Low-A Delmarva.

If the Orioles made Stewart available, there probably would be interest because of his power potential and on-base ability. If Stewart returns, he’ll probably have a final chance to prove his worth to the Orioles.

Notes: Cedric Mullins is one of eight American League outfield finalists for the Silver Slugger Award. … Each of the four players assigned to Triple-A Norfolk last week — pitchers Thomas Eshelman and Konner Wade, infielder Pat Valaika and catcher Austin Wynns — has elected to file for free agency instead of accepting an outright assignment. The 40-man roster has 35 players.

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