Orioles Top Prospect DJ Stewart Slowly Adjusting to Pro Ball

As one of the linchpins of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Florida State Seminoles have been the epitome of athletic achievement and dominance. A tradition spanning across multiple sports, the Seminoles have been at the forefront of championship triumph, capturing seven men’s titles, while cementing their legacy among the collegiate greats. The baseball program has seen future MLB luminaries such as Deion Sanders, J.D. Drew, and Buster Posey begin their heralded careers through the doors of Tallahassee. The institution of the “tomahawk chop” began with Sanders on the football field and the image of the Seminole became prominent in every facet of the university and on the national level. DJ Stewart, the Baltimore Orioles top hitting prospect, made his name on the baseball diamond in Florida State and looks to emerge as a franchise cornerstone after being selected as the 25th overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles in last June’s draft.

Demetrius Jerome Stewart spent his formative years in Jacksonville, honing his skills both on the gridiron and the baseball diamond. As a senior at Bolles School in Jacksonville, Stewart batted .424 with nine home runs, opening prospective opportunities for big league clubs. As a running back on the football team, Stewart drew acclaim after leading his team to three championships. Second-team All-State accolades followed, but a career in baseball would more lucrative and rewarding long-term impact. At Florida State, Stewart left a lasting impression, as he led the Seminoles to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Regionals. Playing for the legendary Mike Martin at FSU, Stewart led the ACC in hitting with a .351 average, while compiling a .557 slugging percentage. A steady presence in the cleanup spot during his three seasons in Tallahassee, Stewart developed one of the best batting eyes in the country, walking more than he struck out in each of his final two collegiate seasons. “He will do and work at whatever the organization wants him to do”, Martin said, (PressboxOnline). Stewart’s strong showing in 2014 resulting in ACC Player of the Year honors and being named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy on a team featuring the likes of Jameis Winston and future Cardinals draft pick Luke Weaver. Concerns about makeup and maturity surrounded Stewart entering his junior season after being suspended four games for partaking in a bench-clearing brawl a year earlier. Stewart sought to prove his critics wrong and doubled his output in home runs and stolen bases, while finishing with an even .500 on-base percentage. Perhaps the most vital statistic was 69 bases on balls to lead college baseball and increase his draft stock. Stewart’s stellar three-year career at Florida State earned him the #28 ranking from Baseball America among draft prospects in 2015. The Baltimore Orioles would affirm their projection, taking him late in the first round in the draft, anticipating greatness.

Martin, the Bobby Bowden of Florida State’s baseball program believes that Stewart is the ideal player for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles. “I’ve known Buck Showalter for a long time, and he is a Buck Showalter type of player,” Martin said after the draft, (Press Box Baltimore). Stewart would soon meet the man who he hopes one day will be his manager when Showalter visited Ripken Stadium in July. “He has a chance to hit. I liked his selectivity. “He should have three hits that night and had none. Some guys are just taking pitches because they are in take mode, but you can tell he recognizes pitches”, Showalter said, (Baltimore Sun). Adjusting to professional baseball after missing a month of action between the college game and signing, Stewart’s walk and strikeout rates have gone in the wrong direction since joining the Orioles short-season affiliate, the Aberdeen Ironbirds. After a senior season in which his walks exceeded his strikeouts, Stewart has recorded just ten walks in 78 at bats entering Sunday, while fanning on 18 different occasions. A .179/.263/.333 slash line resulted in just nine runs batted in, as the New York-Penn League proves to be an uphill battle in the early going. Ironbirds radio broadcaster Daniel Kurish attributes Stewart’s early challenges to a small sample size and expected growing pains of a first year pro. “When he first got here he was really struggling”, Kurish said. You can see him get frustrated with himself. It was a struggle because he sat out a month between Florida State and this, so it was about getting back to knowing what he needs to do”.

Despite a rough start in the New York-Penn League, Stewart is beginning to show signs of breaking out of his early season funk. Since a July 20th series against the Astros short-season affiliate, the Tri-City Valley Cats, Stewart has had five multi-hit games, including two of his last three games against the Staten Island Yankees. As teams began to shift on him, Stewart adjusted and began to collect hits pulling the baseball. The results have come slowly, but Stewart is gradually breaking out of his early season slump. One of the most striking characteristics of his play is an unorthodox crouch at the plate, which the Orioles have yet to eliminate. “The stance does not affect his average of his power now”, Kurish explained. “In the long run they wanted him to raise up because it is a more natural stance. Until something happens he is going to ride with it”.

As much of the attention is spent on his approach at that plate, Stewart is opening eyes with a better than adequate defensive showing in left field. Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn was most impressed with his glove during a recent series against the Ironbirds. “In left field he moves better than I thought”, Osborn said. “He made a couple of running catches out that maybe thought off the bat might burn him. It is an average to below average arm, but we’ll see what he can do”. In some respects, Stewart resembles former Moneyball standouts Nick Swisher and Jeremy Brown, to the elation of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta. A rare combination of power, walks, and minimal strikeouts are a sabermetrician’s dream. Strides made defensive and on the basepaths create addition value and could potentially enhance his ceiling. In an organization, which has yet to produce a viable position player in the outfield since Nick Markakis in 2003, who ironically was the last outfielder taken in the first round prior to this season. Stewart potentially represents the finest hitter currently in the pipeline and a perennial starter in Baltimore within the next couple of seasons. Stewart’s ceiling will be contingent on mastering the lower levels of the minor leagues and improving his makeup. If Stewart can make strides in those departments, then he will likely have a future address on Eutaw Street.

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