DJ Stewart proving his worth with Mets after struggling as a former first-round pick – Boston Herald
WASHINGTON — DJ Stewart has faced a particular type of pressure throughout his career. Once considered one of the best bats of the 2015 draft class, the Mets’ outfielder was taken 25th overall by the Baltimore Orioles after wrapping up a standout career at Florida State.
That first-round tag proved tough to live up to and in some ways and Stewart struggled to establish himself and his bat in the Charm City. Stewart admittedly had a difficult time living up to that pressure.
“There have been times in my career where I pressed,” Stewart told the Daily News. “In Baltimore, being a first-round pick, just kind of letting the pressure kind of get to you. And being younger in my career at that time, I didn’t really know how to handle failing in my life for the first time.
“But I’m fortunate that it did happen because I know how to adjust to it.”
Stewart got a second chance at a big-league career with the Mets, and it certainly looks as though he has adjusted quite well this time around. Since being called up July 4, Stewart has slashed .265/.348/.622 with 10 home runs and a .971 OPS. Nine of those have come in the last few weeks, with Stewart owning a 1.247 OPS over his last 16 games. He’s gotten a hit in four of his last five games.
A left-handed hitter, Stewart provides some pop down lower in the order and gets the ball in the air, as his .296 BABIP would indicate. His 92.4 MPH average exit velocity is the highest of his career.
Stewart could be playing his way into a bench role in 2024.
“Whether it’s in Triple-A or here I’m obviously playing for a job next year,” Stewart said. “But I don’t look too much into what I’m doing here into the future. I try to take it day-by-day and just go out there and help the team and if they see if that they want me back. I would love to be here, but I can’t control that I can only control what I do.”
The Mets have to figure out whether or not he’s capable of continuing this kind of production. History would show that he isn’t. But then again, this could finally be where the 29-year-old breaks out.
Stewart has been hitting for power lower in the lineup and providing some defense. Last week against the Texas Rangers, Stewart hit two home runs, made a fantastic leaping catch at the wall and was hit by a pitch to drive in the winning run in 10 innings. Defense isn’t his calling card and there have been a few miscues since he was called up. But by putting him in a bench role or a platoon role — similar to how Tommy Pham was used before he was traded — the Mets might be able to unlock something with a once-promising hitter.
“You’ve got to be careful about counting guys out if they’re willing to put in the time and have got an edge to them,” said manager Buck Showalter.
You could say Stewart was counted out this season, but it would be more accurate to say he was squeezed out with the outfield pretty much set before spring training. He didn’t hit the way he had hoped at the start of the season with Triple-A Syracuse. The birth of his daughter and a bout with COVID contributed to his slow start.
Instead of waiting for a pitch he could drive, he was trying to hit every pitch. The hitting coaches had him add a toe-tap which aided him in two ways. It helped with his timing at the plate and helped him stay back in his stance instead of lunging outward for the ball.
When the results came, so did his confidence.
“I’m very competent in what I’m doing on the cage,” Stewart said. “It’s putting my swing into the position that I want it to, to be able to cover pitches that I’ve struggled with before. I think when you have the clear mindset that what you’re doing is working for you in the cage that you can just go out there and play, you don’t have to worry about thinking, ‘Oh, if he throws this certain pitch, I’m not gonna be able to get to it,’ or something like that. You’re confident in what you’re doing.”
Maybe the first-round pressure that felt so heavy earlier in his career has eased up and allowed him to bloom later than anticipated. Maybe this was in him all along. The Mets will have to assess whether or not this is the case over the final month of the 2023 season.
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