DETROIT -- The stretches when Christin Stewart looks every bit the power-hitting outfield prospect the Tigers desperately need in their rebuilding plans are easy to find. It's not just about the ball jumping off his bat toward the outfield fence. It's also about the former first-round pick shrugging off pitches
DETROIT -- The stretches when Christin Stewart looks every bit the power-hitting outfield prospect the Tigers desperately need in their rebuilding plans are easy to find. It's not just about the ball jumping off his bat toward the outfield fence. It's also about the former first-round pick shrugging off pitches he can't hit, thinking along with the pitcher.
"You have your mental bank you go through from when you faced them the last time, what he tried to do to get you out, stuff like that," Stewart said near the end of last season. "But they also have a report about you, how they pitched you. Especially being in the 3-4-5 hole, usually they remember who you are. They know how to have success against you. They try to go back to that. They're just trying to outsmart you, and you have to stay within yourself and not fall into their trap.
"You have to stay within the strike zone. You can't go chasing the stuff they want you to chase. You just have to stay within your zone, if that makes sense."
When Stewart does that, it not only makes sense, but it also looks easy. He'll confidently use his left-handed swing and pull a ball over the fence, or off the wall for a double, after taking a pitch to get in his count. It might be a week, or a game, or sometimes just an at-bat, but it reminds you why he was ranked for so long as the Tigers' best position-player prospect by MLB Pipeline until the flurry of Tigers midsummer trades brought in Jeimer Candelario and Daz Cameron.
And then Stewart will have at-bats when he looks nothing like that.
"He looks great one AB, and then he looks like he's chasing butterflies up there the next," his former manager at Double-A Erie, Lance Parrish, said last summer. "It's always a work to try to get hitters focused and balanced and where you want them to be. Sometimes you see it and then, poof, it goes away. And he's no different.
"He's got tremendous power, obviously. He'll go through stretches where he hits the ball, and then there's other times where it's, like, 'Man, what happened?' But as I've explained to these guys, the difference between you guys and the big league guys is they're more consistent than you are. Those stretches are fewer and far between, and they don't last very long, not for the good hitters, anyway."
The Tigers believe Stewart is good, and that he can make the strides to become more consistent. That's one reason they've practiced patience with him after his 30-homer season between Erie and Class A Advanced Lakeland in 2016 sent him vaulting up the Tigers' prospect rankings. He nearly matched that total this past season, homering 28 times for the SeaWolves, but they came in bunches.
Stewart powered through the early-season chill of April in Erie to bat .295 with a .991 OPS, but then he fell to a .235 average in May. He came through again for a .317 average and .891 OPS in June, then hit just .195 in July with nearly twice as many strikeouts (30) as hits (17). He leveled things out in August with six homers and a .255 average, but he closed with an 0-for-11 slump over his final three games in September.
The result for the season was a .256 average, one point above Stewart's 2016 rate, with similar power and a lower on-base percentage.
"For me, personally, it's just trying to stay more consistent, staying within myself and not trying to do too much at the plate," Stewart said. "I just have to try to stay more consistent at what I do best, which is getting that run in. If there's a runner at third with less than two outs, I feel like I should always get that run in at a very high clip."
If things go to plan, Stewart should get his first chance at Triple-A Toledo this year, putting him on Detroit's doorstep. The Tigers will exercise similar patience with him, giving him a chance to see more experienced Triple-A pitchers two and three times in a season, letting him get through his growing pains.
At some point, whether it's at season's end or in 2019, the Tigers need Stewart, both for the left-handed hitting and the power. If he makes it, the Tigers' rebuild will get a little easier with an offensive bump.
"You know there's an opportunity right there," Stewart said. "You play pro ball to try to get to the big leagues, try to get to The Show. That's my goal every day, try to get to The Show and stay there. I don't want to get there and bounce around. I want to get there and be able to stick. That's what I'm working towards every day."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.