On their way to a 72-68 record and an Eastern League playoff berth, the Double-A Bowie Baysox were the best hitting team in the league this season. Bowie led all clubs in batting average (.283), on-base percentage (.345), slugging (.436) and runs (697).
There were several hitters that had good seasons for Bowie, including Austin Hays, Garabez Rosa, Aderlin Rodriguez, Steve Wilkerson and Cedric Mullins. But when I asked Bowie hitting coach Butch Davis which player improved the most from the beginning of the season to the end, he said it was outfielder DJ Stewart.
I spoke with Davis late in the season at Camden Yards. He was there to pick up the Cal Ripken, Sr. Player Development Award, named for the late Orioles coach and manager who is widely regarded as the architect of “The Oriole Way.”
Stewart was the Orioles’ 2015 first-round pick and this season he had his best year. In 126 games, the 23-year-old left-handed batting Stewart hit .278/.378/.481 with 26 doubles, two triples, 21 homers, 20 steals, 80 runs, 79 RBIs and an OPS of .859 for the Baysox. He became the first player in Bowie history to hit 20 or more homers and add 20 or more steals.
“He started off slow, but the hard work he put in showed,” Davis said of the Florida State product. “We had a lot of guys that did well, but if I had to pick the most improved, it would be him.
“His tenacity and the way he went about his business, he was always looking for information. He was always seeking information and wanted to get better - and he did.”
Davis said Stewart, who showed a nice combination of speed and power, can be a player that beats teams with both.
“Yes he can. Speed-wise, he runs hard and he’s not afraid to steal bases,” Davis said. “The guy can be 1.1 (seconds) to the plate and he may be looking to run and we have to slow him down sometimes. But that’s good. You want guys to get on base and not be afraid to make a mistake. He does show power to all fields, as well.”
Stewart and Hays made Baseball America’s Double-A All-Star team as Bowie and the Orioles provided two of the three outfielders.
Stewart’s ranking in the Eastern League statistics:
* First in runs scored (80)
* Fourth in RBIs (79), OBP (.378) and walks (65)
* Fifth in total bases (220)
* Eighth in stolen bases (20)
* Ninth in doubles (26) and slugging percentage (.481)
* Tenth in homers (21)
In Arizona: Ryan Mountcastle, one of Stewart’s teammates this season, has gotten on a hitting tear for Salt River in the Arizona Fall League.
The 20-year-old Mountcastle has gone 5-for-9 in his last two games and homered Monday. He has an RBI in five straight games. In that stretch, he is 8-for-22 (.364) with two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. In nine AFL games overall, he is batting .286/.306/.543 with an OPS of .848, making seven starts at third base and two as a DH.
After tearing it up in the Carolina League - where he won the batting title hitting .314 in 88 games and led the league in extra-base hits - he hit .222 in 39 games when he moved up to Bowie. But over his last 12 games with the Baysox, he hit .300 (15-for-50) with four doubles, a homer and five RBIs.
During the playoffs, here is what Bowie manager Gary Kendall said of Mountcastle: “Offensively, we all saw him in spring and his ability to drive the ball and get barrel to the ball. He’s handled fastballs and sliders here and overall this has been a real positive experience for him on offense. And you like to see a player on the rise, which he has done. He is very important in our lineup in terms of what he brings. He can get a single, a double, he can hit it out of the park. He can backspin the ball.
“Defensively, I’ve been pleased (on his move from shortstop to third base). The biggest thing with him is learning the position and the instincts of playing third - learning the depths, when to play in, when to back off. He played short all those years and it’s a bit of an adjustment. Based on what I’ve seen of him in a small sample size at short, his arm plays better at third. He’s done a nice job for us.”
Mountcastlle seems to be player that is not cocky at all, but confident. Confident he can play well with older prospects in the Eastern League and the AFL. His solid finish at Bowie and his solid start with Salt River are showing he belongs with those players.
Still seeking responses: Even though this blog was published on Sunday, I noticed many of you were still responding with your all-time favorite Orioles yesterday. So no reason to stop now. If any of you have not had time to tell us about your all-time favorite, you can click on the blog and do it now.