Baltimore Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart will start 2020 with a steep hill to overcome.
Oh, DJ Stewart. It took me a long time to come around on Stewart, but a trip to Bowie to get a few extensive looks at him and a quick conversation with Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser changed my thoughts about Stewart, until he reached the major leagues.
There’s a lot to like about Stewart, including his home run power, speed on the basepaths, ability to draw a lot of walks, and his sneaky speed in the outfield. The Orioles got him to stand more upright at the plate, instead of using his pronounced crouch at the plate, and it paid dividends in the minors.
Stewart posted a wRC+ of 135 in High-A and137 in Double-A (while also posting a 20 HR/20 SB season), while keeping that mark above 100 in his two stints in Triple-A (139 last season). He has nothing left to prove in the minors and is now facing a big season in Baltimore.
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Injuries prevented him from seeing much playing time in the majors last year, defensive blunders highlighted his struggles, and he managed just a .238 average and .698 OPS in 44 big league games. Notoriously a slow starter, Stewart won’t have much time to prove himself in 2020.
He’s not expected to resume baseball activities until the end of spring training, meaning we will be well into the minor league season before we see Stewart play in some rehab games, giving the outfield group of Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr. Ryan Mountcastle, and Mullins a head start in taking over the left field job (assuming Mancini is still in right field).
Stewart has the potential to be a reserve outfielder on a good Baltimore Orioles team, but has to stay healthy and show consistency at the plate first.
The only other outfielder we haven’t really talked about this offseason is Dwight Smith Jr. With injuries and service time games impacting a few outfielders, Smith is very likely to make the Opening Day roster, but how long will he stay there? He has an option remaining, so it could be an up and down year for the former Blue Jay, both in terms of his numbers and roster status.