FREDERICK, Md. — DJ Stewart has been in professional baseball for nearly a year now. It’s been an interesting year.
Stewart, who was the Orioles’ first round draft choice in 2015, batted just .218 for Aberdeen, and was hitting .237 with four homers and 15 RBIs at Delmarva when he got the call to join Frederick last week.
In his first five games with the Keys, Stewart is 6-for-19 (.316) and two RBIs.
“You can always do better,” Stewart said on Monday before his professional debut as a center fielder. “Of course, I would like to hit a lot better…I’m learning a lot about pro ball.”
Stewart was drafted out of Florida State, and at 22, he’s not in a rush.
“I’m happy where I am right now. I’m happy with the progression that I’m making,” he said. “If it was easy, everybody would be in the big leagues, right?”
It may have seemed like a surprise to some that Stewart was summoned to Frederick. He wasn’t surprised.
“That’s one thing our coaches talk to us about. Always be ready. You’re one call from moving up,” Stewart said. “Prepare yourself as if you’re going to be in the big leagues the next day.”
Stewart’s transition from a big time college program to low level professional ball hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of times, I try to do more than just be myself. You try to live up to expectations of being a first-rounder, I guess instead of sticking to who you are and what you do and try to drive the ball wherever it’s pitched instead of trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark every single time,” Stewart said.
While he has a .228 professional batting average, he’s shown great patience. His on-base percentage is exactly 100 points higher than his batting average.
Stewart says that because prior to entering pro ball, he was always leading off.
“You first at-bat, you kind of want to see a lot of pitches, let the guy behind you see what the pitcher has,” Stewart said. “That background of leading off has helped me even when I’m not leading off now, draw walks, make the pitcher throw the ball three times in the strike zone.”
In college, Stewart flew with his team. Now, he’s riding busses.
“It’s different. You’re getting to a place at six o’clock in the morning,” Stewart. “Getting there at six and playing at seven at night. You have to keep yourself ready the best you can, try to get as much sleep as you can, even if it’s on the bus. Keep your nutrition up.”
Eating properly is important for Stewart, who uses the offseason to get his body prepared.
“I got a little taste of it in Aberdeen. You’re not necessarily going to have the best meals available to you,” Stewart said. “Even when you’re making stops at places that aren’t necessarily healthy, try to get the healthiest thing that you can. Balance it out the best way you can.”
One of Stewart’s highlights in 2016 was getting invited to be a “Just in Case (JIC)” for Buck Showalter during spring training. He had some cameo appearances.
“It was awesome. It was a dream come true, even though you’re not on the big league roster just to be around those guys, kind of talk to them and pick their brains,” Stewart said. “I got seven or eight innings every single time to watch how they approach the games…I had good talks with Adam Jones during spring training to see if I could learn anything.”