FT. MYERS, Fla. -- In the offseason, Christin Stewart looked into the numbers to try to fuel a boost in 2020.
Except it wasn’t just his splits, advanced statistics or swing plane coordinates. It was also his macronutrients.
After the demands of his first full season showed room for improvement, Stewart worked with a nutritionist and lifestyle coach in the offseason to develop a meal plan and a new philosophy on nutrition. He didn’t go plant-based, as has become a growing trend among players in the offseason, but fruits and veggies were a key part of his transformation.
“Starting off my offseason, I dropped down to around 212 [lbs],” he said, “and then I tried to build it back up into Spring Training to about 218, but less body fat. Doing that, overall, I feel a lot better.”
Health is important to any player, but especially in Comerica Park’s big left field -- which grows rapidly from the 345-foot mark toward the 420 mark in center field -- staying fit is an imperative attribute over the course of 100-plus games. Though no Grapefruit League field is able to replicate that feel for him, Stewart -- who was seen as just a fringy runner as a 2015 first-round Draft pick -- can see his improved body responding better to long runs and quick sprints.
“I feel like my legs are under me, and I’ve got a little bit more speed, for sure,” Stewart said. “I feel good.”
“We know he’s not a speed guy by any means,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He needs to learn to make the routine plays and get the ball to the cutoff man, everything he knows. He’s trying to do that, but getting in shape, coming in the best shape, was a good start.”
It also helps Stewart that he’s grown in familiarity with the Tigers’ center-field options to understand coverage plans and not have to exhaust his body more than the task requires. He played Tuesday with Victor Reyes in center, but he’s been working heavily with JaCoby Jones to make defensive assignments as smooth as possible.
“Especially between me and JaCoby, we’ve come a long way out there,” Stewart said. “Getting to know each other, what we can do, what we cover and stuff. Just keep communicating.”
Though Stewart barely tweaked his workout plan from years past, he’s made it a point to put a focus on flexibility. The 26-year-old, who is packed with muscle throughout his 6-foot frame, wants his body to be able to adjust quickly at the plate and be able to sustain awkward or diving plays in the outfield.
“I’m a bigger guy, a broader guy,” he said. “Upper body and lower body, I’ve got to make sure I have that flexibility to get into positions I need to get into.”
Last season was Stewart’s first as a regular starter for the big league team after he showed off his potential with 23 homers in Triple-A Toledo, followed up by a solid Major League debut (16 hits in 17 games, including four extra-base hits). His OPS dropped by almost 100 points from his short first stint to his 104-game 2019 season.
However, the changes Stewart plans to make with his bat are “more on the mental side, not as much the physical.” He’s trying to step up his plate discipline to keep from chasing pitches that he feels are not his pitches, but he’s also gotten a jolt of confidence offensively by simply seeing so many different guys, including his time in Spring Training.
“The biggest thing is just getting those at-bats, seeing those guys,” Stewart said. “If I see them again, I already know what they’ve got. It’s not my first time going through it.”
Dario’s roster audition
Dario Agrazal knows that to earn a spot on the Tigers’ roster, it’s going to be an uphill climb. It’ll even be tough to crack a rotation spot at Triple-A Toledo, with the amount of top-tier pitching prospects approaching the top of the organizational ladder after successful seasons in Double-A Erie, like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal.
Agrazal got another look on Tuesday against a loaded Twins lineup, including nearly all of their projected Opening Day starters. He worked through a clean first, but singles by Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sanó set them up to be driven in by Marwin Gonzalez’s double in the second.
“For me, it was better pitching today,” Agrazal said. “Stay with the plan. Those pitches, those happen. A little bit up, and he took advantage.”
Agrazal ran up to 94 mph on the radar gun, while he sat closer to 91 mph last season in Pittsburgh. He felt that his slider, which he’s been keeping a close eye on this spring, was “awesome,” and his arm feels healthy.
All the signs are pointing to good things for Agrazal compared to his debut season, and he’s got experience under his belt. So how’s he approaching this year, knowing the odds are tougher in Detroit than Pittsburgh to crack the rotation?
“I think I need to keep working, and I would like to make the team, but they have the decision at the end of the day,” Agrazal said. “But for me, I’m feeling good and staying healthy. We’ll see later.”
After being set back with arm soreness to begin camp, Tigers No. 5 prospect Isaac Paredes made his Spring Training debut at third base, striking out and grounding out softly. He’s the organization’s top infield prospect, and Gardenhire said Paredes is in “high standing,” though they’ll take it slow with him in Florida.
“He’s played so much baseball -- the number I’ve heard is he’s had 800 at-bats over this past year -- and I think him being out was not due to an injury more than just absolutely worn out and [needing to] take a step back,” Gardenhire said. “So we’re going to be careful here with him, but he’s got a lot of tools.”
The Tigers will head back to Ft. Myers on Wednesday, when they take on the Red Sox in a 1:05 p.m. ET tilt at JetBlue Park. Iván Nova will make his third start for Detroit this spring, as he works to get in top shape for what will be his first Tigers Opening Day roster spot. The Red Sox will send lefty Jeffrey Springs to the mound, and the game will be available live on Gameday Audio.
Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.