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Southern notes: Stewart handles 'big hurdle'

Twins No. 6 prospect, 21, finding ways to develop despite diabetes
July 19, 2016

The energy-sapping grind of a long baseball season challenges everyone's stamina.

If you're a diabetic, though, it can be even more difficult.

"It's a big hurdle," Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher Kohl Stewart said. "It's not something I worry about, but it's something I have to pay attention to on a daily basis."

The Twins' No. 6 prospect was diagnosed as a type-1 diabetic when he was in third grade, so it's something he's had to deal with his whole athletic life. Still, it's something you have to continue to learn to master, similar to the process of becoming a successful pitcher. Stewart, the fourth overall pick of the 2013 Draft, is making progress in both areas.

"I'm getting better at managing my diabetes," the 21-year-old right-hander said. "I'm feeling better in my outings. When my turn comes, I'm ready to go now."

The move up from Class A Advanced Fort Myers to Double-A Chattanooga at the start of June initially meant a switch from a six-man rotation to a five-man starting staff, and the change was a challenge.

"When I first got here, it wasn't easy," Stewart said. "It meant a new routine and something else to adjust to with my diabetes."

Stewart soon did, going seven innings in back-to-back starts for Chattanooga and blanking Pensacola on four hits and striking out seven in the second one July 3. Before Chattanooga went to a six-man rotation itself with the promotion of 2015 first-round choice Tyler Jay from Fort Myers, Stewart limited Tennessee to one run in another seven-inning outing July 13.

With his arm healthy this year after he endured shoulder and elbow issues, the former Texas high school football standout is starting to live up to his Draft status and bonus of $4.5 million. Stewart had a combined 3.13 ERA after 17 starts for Fort Myers and Chattanooga and had allowed just five homers in 95 innings as he continued to get plenty of ground balls with a sinking fastball that reaches the mid-90s.

"The more I pitch, the more I learn my stuff and how to use it," he said. "A lot of it is keeping my mind in the right place during an outing and not trying to do too much. Trusting my stuff and learning to read hitters is all part of it. I'm better about making adjustments in a game now."

Stewart, though, is also better at staying consistent with his delivery.

"I've learned the way I want to throw and now it is just a matter of repeating it so my stuff is consistent on a daily basis," he said. "The more consistent I get with my mechanics, the more I can focus on the product of getting hitters out rather than focusing on the process."

With only 69 K's this year, Stewart's strikeout total isn't what you'd expect. Others may be concerned, but he isn't.

"It's a stat I don't look at," he said. "If they happen, they happen. I'm not trying to strike more guys out. I'm trying to control my stuff in a better way and throw what I want in any count. Strikeouts are very, very secondary to me."

Stewart could have played quarterback at Texas A&M as well as pitch, but he says he never thought seriously about football.

"It was just something fun to do in high school," he said.

Stewart's dream was always to be a Major League pitcher. Like managing diabetes, it takes a lot of constant attention, though.

"The biggest step for me has been being able to turn my brain off when I'm out there pitching and concentrate on what's important," he said. "It's a learning process. They say that pitching is 80 percent mental and that's true. I've got the stuff. It's just learning how to best take advantage of it."

In brief

Managerial milestone: Biloxi manager Mike Guerrero earned his 1,000th career victory in exciting fashion Thursday as the Shuckers posting their fifth walk-off win of the season. Angel Ortega's infield single in the ninth inning scored Johnny Davis to give Biloxi the 3-2 victory. Guerrero, in his 19th season as a manager, took over the Shuckers this season after two years as Milwaukee's first base coach. He managed the Brewers' Southern League team at Huntsville in 2010 and 2011. At the time he reached the milestone, Guerrero had a 1,000-869 record.

Red-hot summer: Chattanooga center fielder Zach Granite followed a .363 June by hitting .392 in the first 12 games of July, raising his overall batting average to .309 entering Monday. The 14th-round pick by Minnesota in the 2014 Draft out of Seton Hall University started the season slowly, hitting .205 in April. Granite, 23, was second in the Southern League with 34 steals and 58 runs scored while also recording 30 RBIs and 18 extra-base hits in 81 games. The Lookouts' leadoff hitter had drawn 28 walks while only striking out the same number of times.

Moving up: Montgomery first baseman Casey Gillaspie was promoted to Triple-A Durham on Friday after driving in 12 runs over the first 13 games of the month with the Biscuits. Tampa Bay's No. 8 prospect left the Southern League with a slash line of .270/.387/.554. Gillaspie, 23, had 11 homers and 41 RBIs while leading the league with 58 walks. The promotion of Tampa Bay's first-round pick in the 2014 Draft allowed No. 5 Rays prospect Jake Bauers to move back to first base after playing the outfield.

Still in top form: Veteran reliever Jaye Chapman returned to the Southern League with Montgomery and picked up where he had left off with Biloxi. He recorded a win Saturday in his third appearance with the Biscuits and still hadn't been charged with a run in 16 Double-A games, going 2-0 with 10 saves, 22 strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed in 15 innings. The 29-year-old, who had been pitching for Triple-A Colorado Springs, was acquired by Tampa Bay in a trade with Milwaukee.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to