The Detroit Tigers designated outfielder Christin Stewart for assignment on Thursday to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for former SF Giants pitcher Derek Holland. Stewart was drafted by Detroit with the 34th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft and had consistently ranked among the best prospects in the organization. However, since debuting with the big-league team in 2018, Stewart has struggled to produce against MLB competition.
Over the past three years, Stewart has appeared in 157 games with the Tigers and received 586 plate appearances. In roughly one full season of action, he has hit 29 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, and a .225/.300/.376 triple-slash. His production has declined each of the past three seasons, finishing last season with a meager .524 OPS. After striking out 10 times in 18 plate appearances this spring, Detroit decided to remove him from the 40-man roster.
Could the SF Giants place a waiver claim on DFA’d Detroit Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart?
Few teams have shuffled through more outfielders on their 40-man roster than the Giants in recent years. Even with players like Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater, Alex Dickerson, and Darin Ruf already on the roster, the Giants acquired Twins outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr in a trade this offseason. It seems as if San Francisco has identified a market inefficiency in post-prospect outfielders. If that’s the case, Stewart could be an intriguing addition to the organization’s depth.
Offensive potential has always been Stewart’s calling card. In his first three full minor-league seasons, Stewart mashed against his competition, while maintaining above-average walk rates and keeping his strikeouts from reaching unmanageable levels:
In a late-season callup in 2018, Stewart hit .267/.375/.417 with 10 walks and 13 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. Still amidst a rebuild, Detroit thought they might have found their left fielder of the future, and made Stewart an everyday player in 2019. The then 25-year-old clearly regressed, hitting just .233/.305/.388, but neither his strikeout (24.8%) or walk rates (8.2%) were huge red flags. His power just never seemed to carry over.
Then, in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Stewart struck out 30 times in just 98 plate appearances and failed to crack the Mendoza-line, finishing the year with an abysmal .167/.224/.300 triple-slash. After replicating those struggles this spring, Detroit finally decided they had seen enough and were willing to expose him to waivers.
Stewart has well below-average speed and is a fringe defensive left fielder. Without any defensive flexibility, a calling card of most Giants outfield acquisitions, it becomes harder to envision the Giants making a move. However, the universal designated hitter is expected to come to the National League in 2022. Stewart has flashed the offensive potential to become a solid DH.
Furthermore, Stewart has three optionable years remaining, which would allow the Giants to give him a chance to continue developing in the minor leagues without facing pressure to promote him before he makes the adjustments they deem necessary. Even if his defensive struggles prevent them from envisioning him in the outfield at Oracle Park, he could spend 2021 at Triple-A, auditioning for the left-side of a platoon at DH next year.
The SF Giants have targetted outfielders on the fringes of MLB rosters for Farhan Zaidi’s entire tenure as president of baseball operations. After the Detroit Tigers designated Christin Stewart for assignment, it’s worth pondering whether San Francisco could be intrigued by his history of minor-league success. His recent struggles and defensive limitations are concerns, but the former first-round pick also has flashed difference-making offensive potential. Could he be the next reclamation project that puts it together at Oracle Park?