Christin Stewart is the top power-hitting prospect in the Detroit Tigers system. He aspires to be the best overall hitter.
The 22-year-old outfielder got off on the right foot after being drafted 34th-overall last summer out of the University of Tennessee. Swinging from the left side, the muscular slugger slashed ..285/.372/.508 and bashed 10 home runs in half a season. He did the bulk of his damage in West Michigan, where he helped lead the Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship.
Stewart is highly touted, although the accolades come with cautions. Baseball America has lauded his plus bat speed and raw power, but also opined that he’s “an aggressive hitter whose swing gets long.”
This past summer, I asked the first-year pro about the latter assessment.
“There’s not a lot of movement in my swing,” Stewart told me. “I think I have a short swing to the ball. My extension through the ball can get a little long at times, and maybe that’s what they mean.”
Phil Clark, West Michigan’s hitting coach last year, had a different take. He concurred with his charge on length, but then to pointed to the start, as opposed to the finish.
“I don’t see so much of a long swing,” said Clark. “I think it’s more in his lower body. The lower body dictates how his swing works. I see more of a balance issue with his legs. He has a non-traditional way of loading his body.”
“I do have a different load than a lot of people,” agreed Stewart. “I stride back a little bit in my load. It’s a timing mechanism that I developed in college. When I got to Tennessee, I wanted to see what I could do to get more power in my legs and drive the ball farther. That’s what felt good, and it worked.”
His ability to drive the ball is unquestioned. Stewart left the yard a record 69 times as a Georgia prep, and he homered 15 times in 177 at bats in his final year as a Volunteer. At West Michigan, he homered seven times in 51 games.
“My first impression of him was his incredible strength,” said Clark. “I like his upper body strength. When he’s doing it right, he can hit the ball a long way. He’s got a pull swing, but he can backspin it the other way, too. It carries.”
Stewart knows he’s “been blessed with a powerful swing,” but he doesn’t want to “keyhole myself to the pull side and try to turn-and-burn on everything.” He looks for pitches he can get his hands extended on, and tries to drive the ball to all fields.
“A lot of people call me a power hitter, but I like to consider myself a hitter that has power,” stated Stewart. “I’m a hitter first. But if I get into one, I can drive it out of the ballpark.”
As for his non-traditional load, that’s something the Tigers haven’t tinkered with. At least not yet. Clark told me during the summer that Stewart “maybe needs to smooth himself out a little bit, but right now we don’t see any urgency to touch him.”
Detroit will hold a mini-camp at the onset of minor-league spring training — they didn’t field an instructional league team last fall — and any possible tweaks will be addressed then. According to farm director Dave Owen, “We’ll see how (Stewart) looks and begin preparing him for his 2016 season.”
Alex Speier of the Boston Globe addressed an important aspect of Hall of Fame voting at a recent SABR event. Speaking a stone’s throw from Fenway Park, the stat-savvy columnist wondered aloud if it’s fair to penalize players for doing what was expected of them in their particular era.
I didn’t record his presentation, but I did subsequently ask Alex if he would contribute a brief synopsis to this column. He obliged with the following:
“There is a fascinating dynamic at work when it comes to contemplating the game’s history, especially as seen in Hall of Fame debates, with an at-times shrill exchange between those who want to judge player performance based on the values of the time, and those who prefer to examine the past based on the values of the present.
“The disagreements often are presented as an either/or. However, standards for greatness are dynamic rather than fixed, such that a player may be viewed more (or less) favorably outside the context of his times. Ultimately, it seems unfair not to evaluate players by the standards of greatness both at the time they played (especially given that they often were coached/instructed according to those norms — sometimes in opposition to future standards, as with the 20th century privileging of average over OBP) as well as from the contemporary standards at the time of judgment.”
Hindsight being 20/20, Mets manager Terry Collins erred when he didn’t go to his closer to start the ninth inning of World Series Game 5. He compounded the error by leaving Matt Harvey in to face a second batter after he’d issued a lead-off walk.
But again, that’s hindsight. Harvey had been cruising — the horse’s pitch count was a relatively stress-free 100 — and many managers would have sent him back out. David Ross would have as well.
Watching from home, the Chicago Cubs catcher saw a pitcher who “was dominating the game” and belonged on the mound to begin the ninth. He probably would have lifted Harvey once someone got on, but as Ross made clear when we spoke, “Terry Collins knows his team and his players a lot better than I do; I’m not about to second-guess him.”
The 14-year veteran offered another observation, this one of a psychological nature.
“What ended up happening is that the focus came off the game a little bit,” Ross told me. “If you’re in the dugout arguing with your manager about staying in the game, your focus has gone in another direction.”
Talking to Burke Badenhop about bullpen usage and leverage is a lot like talking to Glen Perkins about bullpen usage and leverage. The latter is an all-star closer and the former is a journeyman with four career saves, but they share the same mentality. Both recognize that the biggest outs often come before the ninth inning.
Another thing they have in common is their pitching backgrounds. Like most relievers, they didn’t begin in the bullpen.
“Relievers are basically broken starters,” said Badenhop. “There’s a reason we’re not starters anymore: We don’t do everything well. If we did, we’d still be starters. So there aren’t very many guys in your pen that are lights out against both sides. Most of us are either good at getting righties out, or at getting lefties out.”
Darren O’Day is especially good at getting righties out, and he’s about to get paid handsomely to do so. The sidewinder recently re-signed with the Orioles for $31 million over four years, one year after Andrew Miller inked a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees — heretofore exorbitant contracts for non-closers. As a matter of comparison, Perkins will be paid $19.3 million over the next three.
“Darren O’Day has never been a closer, but he consistently comes in and gets out of jams, in high-leverage situations,” said Badenhop. “He was a free agent this year and even though they won’t be looking for him to close, the pay is commensurate with his ability. Teams are starting to spend money on high-leverage relievers, and for good reason. Having a good closer in the ninth doesn’t do you any good if you blow the lead in the eighth.”
Badenhop can’t speak for O’Day, but he assumes the fellow righty is more concerned with getting important outs than he is with sexy job descriptions.
“Being older and wiser, he probably realizes that isn’t as important,” said Badenhop. “If he was younger and greener, it might be more ‘I want to be the closer.’
The reason — Badenhop called it a conundrum — is greenbacks. While teams have begun rewarding non-closers, they’re largely doing so when they hit free-agency.
“Stats matter for guys going into arbitration,” explained Badenhop. “Saves make you money. Until the save becomes less important, and some sort of leverage-index statistic starts getting emphasized, that’s going to be an issue.”
He expects it to happen in time.
“As the wheels keep turning — as baseball evolves — teams are going to start using their best relievers to get the biggest outs,” said Badenhop. “They’re not going to keep putting them in a box where they only pitch the ninth. And the teams that are early adopters are going to reap the most benefits, because everyone is probably going to start doing it. At the same time, guys are going to get paid for being the best reliever, not for getting the 6-7-8 hitters out with a three-run lead in the ninth inning.”
Last Sunday’s column included quotes from Josh Boyd on Rangers reliever Keone Kela, This week, the team’s senior director of player personnel weighs in on 24-year-old right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez. A first-round pick in 2013, Gonzalez broke into the big leagues last year and posted a 3.90 ERA in 14 games, 10 of them starts, with a 48.6 GB% and a 4.3 K/9.
“Chi Chi got to the big leagues quickly because he was equipped with multiple pitches in his mix, he throws strikes, and he’s a smart pitcher with aptitude.” said Boyd. “In a perfect world — I think (GM Jon Daniels) said it at the time — his development process likely would have continued in Round Rock, but he came up and gave us some quality starts we needed.
“Delivery-wise, some of the minor adjustments our pitching coaches are emphasizing with him will allow his sinker-slider combo to play up more than it did in his minor league ascent. Chi Chi has the movement on his fastball to pitch to contact, but his slider and continued focus on his changeup and curveball development will lead to increased swing-and-miss as well. I don’t see Chi Chi as a four strikeouts per nine innings guy.”
On the surface, it didn’t make a lot of sense for the Rockies — a long shot contender in 2016 — to trade for Jake McGee. The southpaw throws smoke, but relievers aren’t what the team needs right now. Colorado needs building blocks, and that’s not what McGee is.
The guess here is that GM Jeff Bridich views his new acquisition as a short-term rental. Given the ever-increasing emphasis on deep bullpens, and the fact that McGee dials up 96 from the left side, he should have a lot of suitors at the trade deadline. Will a contender part with a better long-term piece than Corey Dickerson to acquire him for the stretch run? From my perspective, Bridich is banking on exactly that.
Andruw Jones: .254/.337/.486, 1,933 hits, 434 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves, 67.1 fWAR
Jim Edmonds: .284/.376/.527, 1,949 hits, 393 home runs, 8 Gold Gloves, 64.5 fWAR
If you’re running a team and can have either of the two, for the entirety of his career, which one do you take?
Per MLB.com’s Mike “The Maestro of StatCast” Petriello, Red Sox righty Rick Porcello had the third-highest four-seam spin rate last year. That’s a fascinating fact, primarily because Porcello is known as a ground-ball pitcher. Or at least he used to be. His GB% has been inching down, and his two-seam usage has fallen from 45.2%, in 2012, to 29.8% in 2015. The results have been mixed. Porcello had a career-best year with the Tigers in 2014, but he backslid in Boston. On numerous occasions, elevated fastballs were his bugaboo.
Did the Tigers, and/or the Red Sox, ask Porcello to change his stripes and become more of a fly-ball pitcher, because of his four-seam spin rate?
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Per MLB.com’s Daren Willman, when Josh Tomlin got the spin rate of his off-speed pitches above 2,500 RPM, batters were 1-for-35 (.028) versus him, the lowest mark in MLB (minimum 20 at bats).
Among pitchers who didn’t allow a home run last year, Adam Wainwright threw the most innings (28).
Per Baseball America, Astros farm teams have a .550 winning percentage over the past four years, the best in both leagues. The Brewers, at .464, have the lowest winning percentage.
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