IL notes: Hens' Stewart honing his defense

Tigers prospect ranks among league leaders in homers, RBIs

Christin Stewart ranks second in the International League with a home run every 19.38 at-bats. (Ken Jancef/MiLB.com)

By John Wagner / Special to MiLB.com | July 23, 2018 10:00 AM

Christin Stewart's bat has vaulted him to a spot among baseball's top prospects.

The outfielder is considered the No. 5 prospect in the Tigers system after an impressive start to the 2018 season with Toledo. He ranks second in the International League with 16 homers and sixth with 53 RBIs.

What's more, the midseason Triple-A All-Star is MLB.com's No. 94 overall prospect because he's cut his strikeout total down from 138 in 136 games with Double-A Erie last season to 69 in his first 81 games with the Mud Hens. But the tool that will determine Stewart's baseball future may well be his glove, not his bat. And the Tigers like the progress the 24-year-old has made defensively.

"Christin is never going to be a Gold Glove defender, but he will make all the routine plays," said Tigers Minor League outfield coordinator Gene Roof. "Every year, he gets better and he's way better than when we first got him. He listens and he takes the lessons he learns into the games. He has the work ethic and desire to be good."

Roof has worked with Stewart on defense ever since the Atlanta native was selected by the Tigers with the 34th overall pick in the 2015 Draft out of the University of Tennessee. Much of the early work centered on changing the arm slot from which Stewart unleashed his throws.

"When we first got him, his throws came straight over the top and he struggled to get the ball to the cutoff man," Roof said. "So he did the work on making throws from a better arm slot, and he's better. His footwork is getting better and his throwing is pretty accurate. You can't just run on him anymore."

In his first 74 games in the outfield this season, 66 in left and eight in right, Stewart has three assists. He would have more, but on at least two occasions he made throws to the plate that would have resulted in outs if the catcher hadn't dropped the ball or failed to tag the runner.

"Right now, I'm really proud of the throws I've been making," Stewart said. "I think they have been strong and on target, even if I'm not getting outs. I think I'm doing better at getting to the ball quickly and getting it to the cutoff man as fast as I can."

Stewart's defensive improvement is a testament to his work ethic. And that work ethic extends to every part of his game, not just areas where he excels.

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"You have to have a routine each day to get you completely ready to play that day," Stewart said. "If you are feeling good that day, maybe you will do a little bit more. But you have to work on everything. You'll always make time for things you have a passion in, and baseball is my passion. So I always try to make time for every part of my game."

In brief

Hello, Newman: Indianapolis infielder Kevin Newman has been one of the spark plugs for the Indians offense, leading the IL with 62 runs scored while batting .292 with three homers and 27 RBIs. He's also tied for the league lead with 22 stolen bases and ranks fourth with 102 hits. The versatile defender has played 62 games at shortstop and 21 at second base.

Milone on a roll: Syracuse LHP Tommy Milone has won his last three starts and has not lost since May 22, a span of 11 outings. On the season, the 31-year-old is 7-4 for a team that has 40 wins, the second-lowest total in the IL. Milone ranks fourth in the league with 113 strikeouts and stands second among starters with an average of 1.97 walks per nine innings.

Home sweet home: Pawtucket outfielder Rusney Castillo has reached base in 38 consecutive games at McCoy Stadium, far and away the longest such streak in the IL. Since April 10, he has a .386 on-base percentage at home, thanks to 56 hits and 13 walks; the next-longest streak of reaching base in home games is 22.

Two is enough: Norfolk scored two runs in a July 19 doubleheader, but that was enough to give the Tides a sweep of Rochester. In the first game, LHP John Means threw a seven-inning three-hit shutout, striking out six and walking none. The Tides scored the game's lone run in the second when Drew Dosch hit a sacrifice fly. In the nightcap, three pitchers shut out the Red Wings on two hits over eight innings, and Andrew Susac's sacrifice fly scored Adrian Marin with the winning run.

John Wagner is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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