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Should DJ Stewart Get a Call-Up?

DJ Stewart watches a pitch.
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The Orioles played another very unfortunate baseball game last night, in which they bashed Cleveland Indians Ace and Terrible Human Being Trevor Bauer for seven runs and yet still got doubled up on. The Tribe hadn’t put up double-digit runs yet in 2019, but they posted two touchdowns on Baltimore, thanks in large part to plays like this:

At 14-29, the Orioles are exactly who we thought they’d be here by mid-May. Despite the fact that they ARE more fun to watch this year than they were a season ago (as discussed by Paul & Eric on this week’s Payoff Pitch show), that doesn’t change the fact that they’re basically a AAAA baseball team.

And again, that’s all par for the course for a team in year one of a rebuild.

Yet, when there is a chance to augment the roster with a home-grown player who appears truly ready – and to toss aside some dead weight in the process – that may be the best course of action, even though you aren’t really trying to win baseball games.

Unlike some fans, I’m not standing on a soapbox outside The Warehouse demanding to see Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, etc. all come up to Baltimore RIGHT NOW. Not by any means.

But there is one guy who Mike Elias could seriously consider promoting, a guy some in Birdland have been asking for lately: DJ (don’t you put periods between those letters) Stewart.

Last week, Stewart hit two home runs and drove in seven in a single game against Pawtucket. Over his last ten games, the 25-year-old former Florida State Seminole is hitting .438 with four homers, 20 RBI, and five walks. For the season, Stewart has posted a .277/.399/.546 mark in 35 games, with nine doubles, a triple, and seven homers, while playing at the notoriously pitcher-friendly Harbor Park half the time. He’s walking more than he’s striking out (24/22), and steals some bases to boot (four out of five).

Stewart was on the big club for a bit last September, and showed well. In 40 at-bats over 17 games, he hit .250/.340/.550, with three home runs and 10 RBI. He struck out 12 times to four walks though, and we need look no further than Sisco for an example of a guy showing out in September one season only to fall flat on his face when given regular at-bats in the next.

The new O’s regime has said that they want players to prove themselves for full seasons at each level before being promoted. At this point, Stewart has basically played a full season for Norfolk – between 2018 and 2019, he’s now played 151 games and taken 540 AB as a Tide.

He struggled a bit last year though, and it might not be the best idea to combine those two seasons when discussing his overall performance. Let’s take a look at how he’s improved so far this year:

Stewart is, by all measures, a much better hitter at the AAA level here in 2019 than he was in 2018. Most notably to my eye is that he’s cut his K% by over 6% while raising his BB% by over 5% all while his SLG jumped over 160+ points. His K%, BB%, ISO (.269), SLG, wRC+, wOBA, and would all be career-bests at any level.

All very impressive!

But does that ~20% of a season sample size mean that he’s beating down the door to OPACY?

There is also the issue of where he would play, were he to get the call. Stewart is a corner outfielder, and in case you haven’t noticed, the Orioles’ two best players – Trey Mancini and Dwight Smith Jr. – have those positions on lock down. With Chris Davis now showing that he remembered how to be an at least serviceable MLB hitter, the thought of moving Mancini to 1B and eating Crush’s giant contract has faded.

There’s really nowhere for DJ to play. Now, if Mancini were to get dealt later this summer…

/ducks full Natty Boh cans flying at my head

Listen, if the Birds were competing, I’d be signing a different tune. You’d want them to get Stewart and that bat up here if he could help out even a bit. As things stand though, Elias would likely do well to let DJ continue to prove that this new version is here to stay, if not for a full season than for at least two-thirds or so of one.

Calling him up now might put a few more butts in seats (not many though – let’s be honest) or get a few more fans to tune into MASN here and there. But should Stewart come up and struggle, only to be sent down again (oh hey, Cedric Mullins), it could throw a further wrench into his (currently very promising!) development, and for what? Those fans will shrug and go back to not paying attention, while the player could be adversely affected for a considerable amount of time.

In the end, while my heart says CALL HIM UP!, my head says Stewart should continue proving his changes are real and sustainable down in Norfolk until at least the dog days of summer are upon us.

Coby Mayo
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