DJ Stewart got off to a slow start after being drafted in the first round and signed by the Orioles in 2015, but the left-handed-hitting outfielder has hit his stride this season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox and is enjoying the best month of his professional career.
Stewart, 23, has a .311/.422/.600 slash line in August. He has reached base in 19 straight games dating back to Aug. 8 and had a two-homer game Aug. 22. For the season, he's batting .272/.372/.468 with 46 extra-base hits, including 19 homers. He has 62 walks and 83 strikeouts.
Stewart, who saw some improvement with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds last season after changing his batting stance, attributes his current success to feeling more comfortable in the batter's box.
"The last month, I'm honestly just standing up there just trying to have fun and just see the ball and hit the ball," Stewart said during an appearance on
Glenn Clark Radio
Aug. 23. "I honestly feel like that's just me being more comfortable with where I am in the box. I don't feel like I have to think about, 'Hey, am I standing up enough? Am I close enough to the plate? Am I off the plate enough?' I'm not thinking about all these different things that have to do with my stance.
"Baseball's hard enough, and when you're thinking about five or 10 different things in the box about your stance, it's going to be hard to hit a ball. There was multiple times in previous years where I was working on the stance adjustment, I would be thinking about five different things and then all the sudden … it was kind of like I woke up, and I was already sitting back on the bench, and I didn't even remember the at-bat because I was thinking all these other things."
Stewart, who played at Florida State, where he had a strong freshman campaign in 2013, won ACC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore in 2014 and hit .318/.500/.593 over 64 games during his junior year. He was well-regarded as a polished hitter who had a chance to move quickly through the minor leagues.
offered this report on Stewart after he was drafted:
"Few hitters control the strike zone like the compact Stewart, a walk machine with prodigious raw power from the left side. A former high school running back who is built like a fire hydrant, Stewart earns comparisons to Kyle Schwarber and Brian Giles."
But Stewart's pro career didn't start well, as he hit just .218/.288/.345 with the short season Class-A Aberdeen IronBirds. Stewart said he was approached by Orioles coaches during the fall instructional league in 2015 about adjusting his stance, which included a pronounced crouch.
"They didn't want to completely change who I was at all, but they felt that I would have more success standing up," Stewart said. "It'd be easier for me to get to certain pitches as opposed to the stance that I had, [which] was kind of restricting me from certain areas of the plate or certain pitches at the plate. I guess you can get away with that in college baseball, just because in college baseball they're not as fine as they are in professional baseball with the pitches and their locations."
Stewart was a little better with Delmarva during the first half of the 2016 season, when he hit .230/.366/.352. But he took off later in 2016 once he was promoted to the High-A Frederick Keys, who play in hitter-friendly Harry Grove Stadium. He hit .279/.389/.448 with six homers for the Keys.
Stewart's path to the major leagues is unclear. The 6-foot, 230-pounder is likely limited to left field, and the Orioles have a number of corner players under team control into the future in Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Trey Mancini and, potentially, Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander. The Orioles also have two other intriguing outfield prospects at Bowie -- Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins -- who likely will garner looks by the big league team in the future.
Stewart will have to continue to produce at the plate like he has this year to stay on the radar, and pitcher-friendly Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va., likely awaits next year. But for now, Stewart would like to return to the Arizona Fall League, which he played in last year and "absolutely loved." If he doesn't go, though, he has a Plan B in mind.
"If I'm not going there and they're sending other guys there, I've talked about maybe playing winter ball either in the Dominican or Puerto Rico, but I'm not sure yet as far as if I'm going to do that," Stewart said. "But if not, just going home, looking back on this season, watching film, trying to see the things I did right, things I can improve on, getting my body in shape, ready to go for next year, spring training."
For more from Stewart, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Terrance Williams/MiLB