Stewart is a major decision

March 9, 2009 | 4:05 am | 16  

Ian Stewart 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 baseman Todd Helton will 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.

16 Comments »

  • Sp-8 | March 9, 2009 | 8:43 am

    Great up date. I noticed the post time of the article as 4:05 am. So when did you write the article. Start time 3 am. If so you must get @ least 4hrs sleep per nite???

  • Katy | March 9, 2009 | 9:32 am

    I don’t think it would be a good idea to get rid of Stewart. He is an amazing player, and was so big for us last year. I think that Hurdle needs to figure out a way to keep him, and rotate Helton, Atkins and Stewart, that way they can all play. Also what about playing him at second? He did that last year and did well.

  • Robb (Durango, CO) | March 9, 2009 | 10:43 am

    Is it possible that if Todd shows he is healthy this spring, that the Rockies try and trade him? I would say they have to explore their options, not only to save about $50mm over the next 3 years, but to give Stewart a chance to play more. Right now, I would take a Stewart/Atkins combo over Helton and either of those two.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 9, 2009 | 12:46 pm

    Rob, people need to get over the idea of Helton being traded. He has no-trade power and said when the Boston deal fell through he was not going to revisit the possiblity. He also has a contract that given his back problems makes teams less than interested in him. The other thing to remember is that Atkins more than likely will be gone sometime within the next year. He has not shown interest in the overtures the Rockies have made about a multi-year deal, feeling his market value is well above the type of deals the Rockies have given out.

  • Marc | March 9, 2009 | 2:06 pm

    Tracy

    A little off topic but given the Atkins commentary;

    Assuming that Garrett is moved elsewhere; Ian takes up residence at third. If Todd can’t stay healthy – or needs consistent breaks, is Koshansky the guy at first? Baker?

    Just wondering what the corners would look like

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 9, 2009 | 2:53 pm

    Marc, Koshansky might get a shot, but Baker would be a possiblity because it would provide him some at-bats. Baker does need to work at the defense over at first. He adapted so well to second base but surprisingly looked lost at times at first base last year. He is a good enough athlete, though, he should be able to make that adjustment.
    Other possiblities would include Spilborghs if the Rockies decided that Gonzalez or Fowler is ready in center, or even Hawpe, who was a first baseman at LSU and when he first signed, but moved to the outfield because of Helton.

  • Paul | March 9, 2009 | 2:57 pm

    Tracy:

    I need some help understanding the Rockies’ strategy. It seems to me that leaving a bat like Stewart’s out of the lineup 3-4 times per week in favor of, say Clint Barmes, is nonsensical. Barmes at his career best level could be projected to hit .275, 10-15 HR, 65-70 RBI. Stewart has potential as a middle of the order, .300/30/100 guy. Why turn down that upside for defensive reasons? While Barmes might be the better defensive player, could you reasonably project a 20-30 run difference based on defense? Stewart’s athletic enough that he’d adapt well, and – if he performs to potential – be one of the best run producing second basemen in the league. If he was a defensive liability, I could see the reasoning, but he’s clearly not, based on last year’s sample. I’m not against Clint Barmes per se – nothing wrong with him as a utility player or positive clubhouse guy. Are they worried that giving Stewart extended time at 2nd would ultimately harm his development as a 3b, given that Atkins’ days here are numbered? If so, why are they looking at him as a LF, given the many other strong candidates with upside (Smith, Gonzales, Murton) ?

  • Robb (Durango, CO) | March 9, 2009 | 3:28 pm

    Tracy,

    I agree with what you wrote regarding not trading Helton, and I would love to see him come back and go something like .310/15/70. My original comment wasn’t well written; my bad. My intent was that with his contract and back problems, that it would be better to trade him if they get an opening. Related to Atkins; don’t you think with the economy the way it is that for him to think he is going to get a mega-contract is misguided? I think Holliday might find the same thing next winter and that maybe he should have taken the Rockies offer last year. I understand that he couldn’t have known what was going to happen, but 4 yrs./$80 million (or whatever it was exactly) doesn’t seem so bad now.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 9, 2009 | 4:28 pm

    Paul, having Stewart’s bat in the lineup will be a plus. But sometimes I think a team can get too clever. I could see Stewart at second base but before I could see that at the big league level I would want him to play there on a regular basis. The challenges for a hitter are big neough in the big leagues that I don’t believe learning a position he has barely played at the big league level is a fair challenge for a young hitter. I also feel there is a major value to above average defense up the middle, and on a championship caliber team strong defense up the middle is a necessity, not a luxury.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 9, 2009 | 4:32 pm

    Robb,
    The market is always in flux and that is a gamble a player has to take. Let’s just say I have always felt that where I work and live is a critical part of the equation, and if I were offered a contract that would provide lifelong financial security for myself and my family and my family’s family, I would have a hard time saying no. That said, if a player feels it is important to test the open market and see how big a contract is out there, I respect his right to do that and wish him well. As far as what might be available on the open market for Holliday or Atkins, I learned a long time ago that what seems logical is not necessarily reality.

  • roxtalk | March 9, 2009 | 5:05 pm

    Hey Cowboy,
    Why don’t the Rockies, do all a favor, and trade Stewart? Advantage to Rockies, maybe get some pitching, and alliviate the problem he seems to present them. Advantage to Stewart, get to a club that he can help, and a club willing to play him.

  • Ava | March 9, 2009 | 5:23 pm

    I’m pretty sure that they will need Stewart when Atkins is no longer with the team. He’s their future 3rd baseman, who else do they have?

    Unless they can give Stewart some regular playing time it’s not going to do him or the team much good to sit him on the bench.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 9, 2009 | 6:13 pm

    Trading Stewart would not be wise. If the decision is made that he is ready to handle the offensive part of the big leagues — and the strikeout total has been a concern so far — the organization can then begin to weigh how to create the roster spot.
    Stewart is a wonderful athlete who will be a top-level defensive third baseman and has wonderful power, but it is not like his development has been retarded.

  • Marc | March 9, 2009 | 6:16 pm

    For those of us on the Board – how great is this to get real time responses from Tracy and Jack?
    I/we used to have to wait for the Saturday mailbag ..now its like e-mailing with a longtime friend.
    I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. For the fellas, I am happy that this will be a successful outlet but selfishly I will miss the near real time feedback and interaction

  • roxtalk | March 9, 2009 | 6:32 pm

    I concur with Marc, thanks guys, and best to both of you.

  • Trent | March 15, 2009 | 7:16 pm

    I just wanted to say that I am very happy that I discovered this site and was able to continue to read Tracy’s writing. This site is fantastic (it is great to see Tracy actually participating in the discussion.