Smiling Stewart looking for encore after '23 surge

February 26th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- is sitting in front of his locker at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The smile on his face says it all. He is happy to return to the Mets after signing a one year, $1.38 million contract this offseason. He loved playing in front of the fans at Citi Field and felt he had the ultimate support from his teammates.

Stewart, 30, is expected to be on the Opening Day roster as a designated hitter/fourth outfielder and provide power off the bench.

“Nothing is guaranteed in this world. I’m happy to be back. That’s for sure,” Stewart said. “I’m going to treat it like last year -- with a little more experience. I’m more familiar, but we have a new coaching staff. I want to prove to them that they can trust me to do the job as well."

A year ago at this time, Stewart didn’t know if he would ever play in the Major Leagues again. After struggling for five years with the Orioles, he found himself with the Mets on a Spring Training invite. He knew he wasn’t going to make the Opening Day roster, but he left a good impression during the Grapefruit League season. The highlight was hitting for the cycle in an 8-7 loss to the Cardinals on March 19.

Stewart continued that progression with Triple-A Syracuse before earning a promotion to the Mets in early July. The second half of 2023 in the Big Apple was mostly a fun time for Stewart, especially during the month of August, when he went 20-for-66 (.303) with eight home runs and 16 RBIs.

His best game of the month came on Aug. 30 against the World Series champion Rangers. Stewart hit two monster home runs, drove in a career-high-tying four runs and made a great catch in the late innings. But it was getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded that helped the Mets edge the Rangers, 6-5, in 10 innings.

With the bases loaded, Stewart was facing Aroldis Chapman. Stewart’s chances of getting a hit against a left-hander seemed slim, as he was 2-for-15 on the season against southpaws before the game. But the first pitch Chapman threw hit Stewart, scoring Jeff McNeil and ending the game. It was Stewart’s first career walk-off RBI and the fourth walk-off hit-by-pitch in Mets history.

“He had a really good second half last year,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said. “He is going to get a look here. The power is real. He impacts the baseball. Another bat from the left side of the batter’s box.”

Stewart said the reason he was productive in ’23 was that he was healthy. During his five years in Baltimore, he spent most of his time on the injured list or in the Minor Leagues.

Stewart also made a swing adjustment while at Syracuse. With the help of Triple-A hitting coach Collin Hetzler, Stewart added a toe tap to help him react to pitches coming toward the plate. The change translated well into his game, and he found success in the Big Apple.

“Hitting is hard enough, but if you have a clear mind, it makes it easier,” he said.

Hitting the baseball isn’t the only thing Stewart wants to show the Mets. He wants to impress the team with his defense in right field.

“We have some Gold Glove outfielders,” Stewart said. “Just knowing whenever I’m out there with those guys, they don’t have to look twice or shade over to me. They have confidence in me to get better.”