By Contributing Writer: Chuck Boemmel Jr
DJ Stewart, the Baltimore Orioles number 1 draft pick in 2015 (25th overall), had what many would call a breakout season in 2017. His season in Bowie (Class-AA) was so good that all eyes will be on him in 2018, making the upcoming season an important one.
Photo: Patrick Cavey
Patrolling left field for the Baysox, Stewart produced a slash line of .278/ .378/ .481 with 65 walks, 79 RBI and 21 homeruns while also stealing 20 bases in 24 attempts. Much maligned early in his career for not living up to the lofty expectations that accompany a number 1 draft pick, Stewart seemingly put it all together in 2017. It is important that Stewart shows during the 2018 season that last year was not a fluke.
Stewart struggled early in his Orioles career as adjustments were made to his batting stance. Despite the struggles, he improved every time he moved up a minor league level; the higher the level, the better he did. The numbers rose slowly each season and culminated in a successful Eastern League season last year.
Noteworthy was Stewart’s improved plate discipline. His 65 walks were good for 4th among all Eastern League hitters and represented a 50% improvement over his previous best total (42 for Delmarva in 2016).
Adding to the importance of the 2018 season is the fact that Stewart has caught the attention of the one man whose opinion matters the most: manager Buck Showalter. During a recent appearance on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show”, Showalter announced that the 24 year-old Stewart would receive an invite to the major league camp this spring. The invite represents a proper reward for a solid 2017 season and shows that the Orioles have all the faith and confidence in Stewart’s ability.
It is important that Stewart makes the most of this opportunity and shows the organization and the fans that he is worthy of being a number 1 draft pick. A solid spring could lead to difficult decisions regarding the Orioles’ outfield in the future. Regardless of where he plays in 2018 Stewart needs to live up to his potential and continue his positive development. How he performs during the upcoming season will lead to future opportunities with the Orioles.
I see Stewart starting the 2018 season in Norfolk (Class-AAA) and depending on personnel moves he could be a part of a powerhouse outfield for the Tides. At the very least he should join Cedric Mullins in the Norfolk outfield and may even look to his right and see Austin Hays as well. The one question yet to be answered is how will his numbers translate in spacious Harbor Park. I think Stewart will be up to the challenge and will continue to generate solid numbers.
Stewart’s play in 2017 earned him attention and rightfully so. Now it is important that his play going forward is just as worthy of that attention. Base-stealing sluggers do not come along everyday and Stewart’s skill set could fill many of the Orioles’ needs.