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Ian Stewart could have been a contender

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, December 9, 2021

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In a sport where—until recently—there are forty rounds in a draft, Major League Baseball teams sign a lot of young men with the hopes that a handful of them will develop into their next superstar player. It’s far from sure, but occasionally teams will land a player that you are just convinced will be the next big thing for your team. The Colorado Rockies are no exception. Pretty much every sports fan has their one guy they were absolutely sure was set to be a star, and it’s a fascinating topic. Leave your choice for a Rockies player that could have been a contender in the comments and he might be the feature of a future Rockpile!

3B Ian Stewart, Round 1 Pick 10 of the 2003 Draft

When the Rockies drafted Ian Kenneth Wilbur Deandre Stewart out of La Quinta High School in California with their first round pick in 2003, everyone was pretty sure the team had a superstar on their hands. At the age of 18, Stewart slashed an impressive .317/.401/.558 with 10 home runs for the Rookie-level Casper Rockies in 2003. He rocketed up the Rockies’ prospect rankings as the No. 2 organizational prospect in 2004 (no. 57 MLB), and was the team’s no. 1 prospect in both 2005 and 2006 above future star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Stewart was considered so promising that he was ranked as MLB’s No. 4 overall prospect in 2005.

Stewart was a big-bodied, power hitting third baseman with a penchant for extra-base hits in addition to strong on-base numbers early in his professional career. His speed wasn’t overly impressive, but he displayed the ability to leg out triples when he drove the ball deep, and could steal the occasional base.

Stewart was promoted to the Low-A Asheville Tourists for the 2004 season and put up impressive numbers again, turning in a .319/.398/.594 season where he hit 31 doubles, nine triples and 30 home runs. He struck out 112 times, but walked 66 times and was on base enough to offset the strikeouts.

His next two seasons can best be described as slow starts with strong finishes. In 2005 with the High-A Modesto Nuts, Stewart struggled to find his swing in the first half. In May 2005 he slashed .211/.286/.342 with just eight extra-base hits, including three home runs. He similarly slumped in June, but slowly began picking up a rhythm. He finished the season with a solid .274/.353/.497 line, having hit 32 doubles, 7 triples, and 17 home runs. He did, however, continue to frequently strike out with 113 on the season.

After a strong showing at spring training in 2006, Stewart was assigned to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. A strong April gave way to a miserable slump in May that saw him hit .164/.250/.269 with just five extra base hits and no home runs during that month. After an injury and a short amount of time off, Stewart once again rebounded. He finished the season with a .268 batting average, but pulled his OBP and SLG up to .351 and .452 respectively with 41 doubles, seven triples, and 10 home runs.

After starting the 2007 season strong with the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Ian Stewart made his Major League debut on August 11th as the Rockies’ starting third baseman. He played 35 games with the playoff-bound Rockies, slashing .209/.261/.372. He struck out 17 times to just one walk, and hit only one home run. His lone home run was a doozy though: a grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 21st.

Stewart played 81 games in 2008 with the majority of his starts coming at third base, with some appearances at second. In 2009 he was named an Opening Day starter and was the Rockies’ primary third baseman for both 2009 and 2010.

Ian Stewart - Colorado Rockies

Year G PA AB rWAR R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLG
Year G PA AB rWAR R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLG
2007 35 46 43 0.3 3 9 4 0 1 9 0 1 17 .209 .261 .372
2008 81 304 266 1.4 33 69 18 2 10 41 1 30 94 .259 .349 .455
2009 147 491 425 0.7 74 97 19 3 25 70 7 56 138 .228 .322 .464
2010 121 441 386 2.1 54 99 14 2 18 61 5 45 110 .256 .338 .443
2011 48 136 122 -0.7 14 19 6 1 0 6 3 14 37 .156 .243 .221

A mediocre average and middling OBP in 2009 and 2010 kept Stewart from truly blossoming, but his slugging remained an important part of his game. He hit 25 home runs in 2009 and 18 in 2020, but strikeouts remained a consistent issue. 2011 would end up being a make-or-break year for Stewart.

He broke. In more ways than one. A collision with Carlos González during spring training in 2011 kept Stewart from getting much playing time prior to the start of the season, though he still made the Opening Day 25-man roster. What little he did play in the regular season wasn’t pretty. Stewart played just 48 big league games while slashing .156/.243/.221. He hit no home runs and just six doubles.

With Stewart was about to hit arbitration during the 2012 season after making $2.3 million in 2011 for a very subpar season, then-general manager Dan O’Dowd pulled the trigger on a trade that would send Stewart to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Tyler Colvin and a little-known second baseman named David John “DJ” LeMahieu.

Stewart played just 55 games with the Cubs in 2012 while slashing .201/.292/.335, and was released after the season. He would see his last big league action in 2014 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where he played only 24 games.

Stewart’s big league career wouldn’t exactly knock your socks off, but he was a serviceable young player until 2011 completely derailed his career. Whether it was the injury, a slump he just couldn’t kick, or something else entirely, Stewart would never recover. He was rendered expendable in the Rockies organization, and could never gain a proper foothold anywhere else. He was released from the Washington Nationals farm system in 2015, and would never play professional baseball again.

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