For a team in a rebuilding stage, such as the Detroit Tigers, September roster expansion means seeing players that will become the future of the franchise. This September, the player to see is Christin Stewart.
With each of Stewart’s 23 home runs with the Tigers Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, fans clamored to see their top hitting prospect get his chance in Detroit. There were some roadblocks. For a team not fighting for the playoffs, it made sense to let the outfield prospect take his time.
Defense was the main argument made for keeping Stewart in the minors. His bat was unquestionably ready for the next step, but his glove lagged behind. While allowing him to improve his defensive skillset was a big factor, there was more to it than that.
The Tiger outfield was crawling with options. Nicholas Castellanos moved to right field this season, and Victor Reyes was selected as the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft. That did not leave a whole lot of room for guys like JaCoby Jones, Leonys Martin, and Mikie Mahtook.
As the season progressed, Mahtook found himself playing alongside Stewart in Toledo as the odd man out. Once Martin was dealt at the trade deadline, it opened up a spot in Detroit. That spot went to Mahtook.
In Toledo, the Mud Hens found themselves in the midst of a playoff run late in the year. When September rolled around, the team won their division. There was finally room for Stewart, but he had to wait longer for his call up.
When the Mud Hens lost to the Durham Bulls in the first round of the International League playoffs, it was time for Stewart to make the trip to Detroit. He arrived from Durham for his first game on very little sleep, just in time for the series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals. After the long trip, he did not start. However, he did get his first major league at bat in the game, resulting in a flyout.
The next day, Stewart got his first start against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. He was playing left field and batting second against the former Tiger ace Justin Verlander. In the sixth inning, the lefty batter pulled a grounder through the infield for his first major league hit.
Fast forward to the series finale, and Stewart’s third start. He is facing another daunting task in the form of Gerrit Cole. Once again, his bat comes through with an opposite field double down the left field line. His first extra-base hit.
Verlander and Cole are no slouches on the mound. Stewart has shown what many believed to be true, he can hit the ball. But what of his defense? After all, that is the aspect of his game that held him back for so long.
In the second inning, Stewart collided with Niko Goodrum, resulting in a left quad contusion for Goodrum. Later, Stewart showed off some ability with the glove by jumping to rob what was destined to be a home run. There are still some inconsistencies on defense, but he is better now.
Stewart is the number six prospect in the Tigers organization according to MLB Pipeline. He was also an International League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star with the Mud Hens.
The pitchers that Stewart has faced thus far are not only experienced, but some of the best in the league. His success against them is not guarantee of his future in the game, but it is an encouraging start.
Trevor Hooth is a media relations intern for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, Toledo Mud Hens, and a former intern in the 760-AM WJR sports department.