Polarizing figure Aramis Ramirez played his final season with the Cubs in 2011. To fill the void, the Cubs decided to trade the disappointing Tyler Colvin and slap-hitting DJ Lemahieu to the Rockies for the disappointing Ian Stewart and the disappointing Casey Weathers.
Stewart is expected to be the everyday third baseman for the Cubs in 2012 in the hopes that he can fulfill some of the potential that made him Baseball America’s #4 overall prospect back in 2005. Unfortunately, 2005 was the peak of Stewart’s value, and here we are seven years later, still waiting for production.
His career line is 236/323/428. That line isn’t very good and it’s even worse if you choose to focus on batting average instead of the more important on-base percentage. He has contact issues, which leads to high strikeout numbers, but he also throws in a few walks and has a season high of 25 homers….so there is a non-zero chance he puts up an average offensive season.
One thing we’re bound to hear is that if Stewart couldn’t hit in Colorado, he’s not going to hit anywhere else. Maybe that’s true. But his home/road splits aren’t all that different and he’s actually hit for more power (more doubles and more homers leading to a higher ISO) on the road than he did in the friendly thin air of Coors Field. And one surprising bit of information I ran into over at StatCorner was that Wrigley Field was actually a bit more friendly to left handed hitters in the home run department than Coors Field was.
The projections listed at Fangraphs have him hitting about that same 236/323/428 line for 2012. Rudy Jaramillo was supposed to be the best hitting coach in baseball when he was signed a few seasons ago, so maybe he helps Stewart click and hit the over on those. I’m not expecting much and I don’t think the Cubs front office is either. He’s a lottery ticket. Not even a Powerball ticket, but a $2 scratch off that may pay $5 or $10 if you’re lucky. If not, no big deal, you lost $2.
So while we won’t see the same offense that the disliked Aramis Ramirez put up over the last eight seasons, one thing we should see that won’t show up in the projections is improved defense. By all reports I’ve read, Stewart is an above average third baseman, and one report I came across even said he could play “Gold Glove” defense. With the infusion of ground ball pitchers Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm, this may be an overlooked benefit Stewart provides.
He’s arbitration eligible until 2014 so he may be here a few years. I’m hoping for good defense, an average OBP (ML average was .320 in 2011), and good power in 2012 with the Cubs finding a new third baseman by the time they are ready to compete again.