Will Stewart came into the Miami Marlins organization with untapped potential and a chip on his shoulder.
The left-handed pitcher was the third piece the Marlins acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in February for J.T. Realmuto.
Most fans, however, focused on the two bigger names that the Marlins obtained: Starting catcher Jorge Alfaro and top prospect Sixto Sanchez.
Stewart knows he’s talented. That was evident when he carried a perfect game into the eighth inning of his second start with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads on April 12 and again when he was one out from a no-hitter on July 20.
But the 22-year-old also put high expectations on himself, trying to do too much at times to prove he wasn’t more than just a throw-in by the Phillies. That’s when he ran into trouble, like the four times he gave up at least six earned runs without making it through four innings.
Whether he can find consistency on the mound will determine how quickly he can progress through the Marlins’ system.
“I feel like this year I tried to live up to the trade,” said Stewart, the Marlins’ No. 26 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “I tried to not be the disappointment in the trade. That was what my mind was set on. You can’t go out and play like that. You just can’t. It’s not going to work. I think once I figured out that’s not how you do it and I got out of my shell, that’s when the good outings started piling on.”
Stewart finished the season with a 6-12 in 23 games (21 starts), giving up 78 earned runs in 129 1/3 innings with 96 strikeouts and 42 walks. Opponents hit .275 against him. He had four quality starts — defined as giving up no more than three earned runs while throwing at least six innings — in his final eight games.
“At the end of the day, I think I was just psyching myself out,” Stewart said. “I was trying to impress and be something I’m not. I would have interviews last year and they would always ask me ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say ‘I’m just trying to be the best me that I can be.’”
So who is the best Will Stewart? From Stewart’s perspective:
▪ He doesn’t walk people, which was a problem at times this season. Stewart walked or hit at least one batter in every game this year.
▪ He doesn’t throw his fastball at 87 mph, which happened on a few occasions this season. While his fastball isn’t a marquee pitch compared to other top pitchers, he is able to run it typically between 89 and 91 mph with enough spin and sink to be effective. He complements the pitch with a slider and changeup.
▪ And, most importantly, Stewart said he needs to be a guy who “doesn’t care who he’s facing.”
“I could face Bryce Harper. I don’t care,” Stewart said. “I’m going to get him out. I have the mind-set of I’m going to get you. You’re not going to beat me. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. That’s who the best Will Stewart is.
“And he was not there all year last year. There were games and we loved it ... but I want to do it every time.”
Stewart is expected to be added to the Marlins’ 40-man roster this offseason — he is subject to the Rule 5 draft in December otherwise — and will have a chance to compete in his first big-league spring training.