Stewart is a major decision
is considered one of the keys to the Rockies future.
Right now, however, the Rockies have to consider where Stewart fits in the present.
“Of course I want to be the third baseman here,” said Stewart, the Rockies No. 1 draft choice and 10th player selected overall in 2003.
“It’s been my goal since I signed. It’s my national position, but I also understand the depth we have on this team.”
Stewart is a third baseman.
So is Garrett Atkins.
There was a time during the offseason when the Rockies appeared ready to deal Atkins, along with his close friend Matt Holliday, which would have opened an everyday spot for Stewart, who impressed with his effort in the second half last season. Once Holliday was dealt to Oakland, however, the Rockies reconsidered what to do with Atkins.
They decided they needed to keep a right-handed run-producing bat in a middle of the lineup that was already left-handed enough. More important, with their payroll in line, the Rockies felt keeping Atkins was critical because of concerns about how first basemanwill return from offseason back surgery.
In a best case scenario, Atkins will play first base a day or two a week to allow Helton rest for his back. In a worst case scenario, Helton’s back problems would continue and Atkins would be asked to step in at the position he played when he originally signed with the organization.
That leaves the Rockies to decide if the available playing time for Stewart will be enough to allow him to continue to develop. And that decision has been complicated in the early days of the exhibition season because Stewart was sidelined with a strained left triceps muscle.
He finally made his exhibition debut during the weekend.
“We’ll fit him this spring at third base and fit him in in left field,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “He has to be ready to compete. If we keep him we need to make sure he gets a large number of at-bats. I can’t put a number on the at-bats, but he will need a large number.”
What Stewart won’t get is a chance to battle Atkins for the third base job.
Atkins has a big-league track record in which promise has been turned into results. He has hit .286 or better in all four full big-league seasons, averaging 105 RBI and hit 75 home runs the last three years.
“I understand,” said Stewart. “We have an All-Star caliber player with Garrett.”
Stewart, meanwhile, showed promise in a second-half opportunity last year, but is still far from established in the big leagues. He has hit .252 between a September look in 2007 and an extended audition in 2008, but did reinforce the long-term expectations when he was given regular playing time at third the second half last year, and hit .270 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in 211 at-bats. That included a .370 average in 54 at-bats against left-handers. He has, however, struck out 111 times in 309 big-league at-bats.
“I’m definitely here to play seven days a week, but getting in three, four, five a week is not bad,” he said. “My goal is to make the team, and play.” Third base, of course, is his choice, but he would welcome time in left field and even second base.
“It’s the opposite side of the diamond, but it is still around fielding ground balls and throwing,” said Stewart. “It didn’t seem odd (to play second).”
And for Stewart the emphasis is on the word play, regardless of where.
“For me, it’s not what position I am asked to play, it’s about me playing well and hitting well enough to back up (his desire to play),” said Stewart.