In less than a month, Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Sarasota, Florida, to mark the start of spring training. Yet, there remains uncertainty as to whether that will happen as planned with the league’s owners continuing to lock out the players as the two sides plod toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
But as the lockout marches on, so too does Oriole of the Day, The Baltimore Sun’s series examining each member of the 40-man roster’s 2021 season and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.
DJ Stewart’s late-season home run binge in 2020 couldn’t be recaptured in a full 2021 season, as he was largely limited to a platoon and pinch-hitting role before undergoing season-ending right knee surgery.
2022 Opening Day age: 28
2021 stats: .204/.324/.374, .698, 12 home runs, 28.0 K%, 13.8 BB%, 0.4 fWAR
Under team control through: 2025
2021 in review
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Number to know: .120. Stewart had, by far, the highest walk rate among Orioles — their only player above 10% among those with at least 200 plate appearances — and one of the highest in the majors. That was among the reasons the gap between his on-base percentage and batting average was one of the sport’s largest, tied for fifth with National League MVP Bryce Harper.
What was good: Relatedly, Stewart’s keen eye regularly put him ahead in the count and led to a high on-base percentage despite his meager batting average. Of Baltimore’s regulars, no Oriole got ahead 2-0 more often than Stewart, and only Most Valuable Oriole Cedric Mullins got into 3-1 counts more frequently, according to Baseball Reference. He saw 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, a mark that would rank in the top 15 in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
What wasn’t: Stewart, though, rarely capitalized on those advantage counts. Unlike 2020, when Stewart homered seven times in a nine-game span to end the year with a .455 slugging percentage, he wasn’t able to consistently hit for power throughout 2021. Of the 50 players with the lowest slugging percentage (minimum 300 plate appearances), Stewart struck out the 10th most often, per FanGraphs.
Looking ahead to 2022
Likely 2022 role: Bench bat and outfielder.
What’s projected: Given the role he ended 2021 in, there is no guarantee for Stewart on Baltimore’s 2022 roster. He still possibly has use as a left-handed bench bat, but the Orioles’ desperation for pitching has typically left manager Brandon Hyde with a smaller bench where versatility is more valued. At some point this year, No. 7 prospect Kyle Stowers should reach the majors, and given he’s a left-handed power hitter with more defensive acumen, Stewart’s roster spot is a logical one for him to take. Steamer and ZiPS project Stewart as a role player in 2022, with his slash line slightly improving across the board.
A step forward: The Orioles’ lack of players who take their walks means there can be a place for Stewart, a former first-round pick. But his defensive question marks mean there’s uncertainty about where exactly that place is. Barring an injury or a trade, their starting outfield of Austin Hays, Mullins and Anthony Santander is likely set, with Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini holding down the designated hitter spot. The Orioles’ changes to Camden Yard’s dimensions means it’s doubtful the team will want Stewart in left field when at home, leaving occasional starts in right field his only opportunity to get on the field. Improving his defense could make him a more worthwhile deployment, but otherwise, he’ll be bypassed in a hurry.
Three up, three down
This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Keegan Akin, Jorge Mateo and Dillon Tate. The Orioles due up next are Tanner Scott, Bruce Zimmermann and Tyler Nevin.