Stewart not concerned with replacing Aramis
New Cubs third baseman focuses on staying healthy, helping club
CHICAGO -- Ian Stewart, who didn't hit a home run in the big leagues last season, will be taking over third base for the Cubs, replacing Aramis Ramirez, who hit 26 homers and led the team with 93 RBIs.
Those are big shoes to fill.
"I've replaced some guys who have had good careers at that position," Stewart said Friday. "It's not something that I'm going to be thinking about -- 'Hey, I'm replacing this guy and I have to do as well as him or better.'
"I realize what [Ramirez] did for that organization there and I'm sure you guys and the fans appreciated it," Stewart said. "I just hope I come in and do well and get the same support he got over there."
The Cubs acquired Stewart late Thursday from the Rockies in a four-player deal involving three No. 1 Draft picks and a second-round selection. Chicago dealt Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for Stewart and right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers. Only LeMahieu is not a first-round selection; he was taken in the second round in 2009.
Stewart seemed snake-bit from the start of 2011. He injured his right knee in a freak collision on the first play of Spring Training, and then had to deal with a right hamstring injury at the end of Cactus League play. If he could do it over, Stewart said he probably should've stayed in Arizona at extended Spring Training rather than break with the big league club.
He split the 2011 season between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs, totaling two stints in each spot. He batted .156 with six doubles in 48 games with the Rockies and hit .275 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs in 45 games in the Minor Leagues. His season ended in August because of a wrist injury.
"I'm not trying to make excuses for the poor season I had, but injuries do play a part on a guy's season and how ready they are for the season to start and how things go throughout the season," Stewart said in a conference call.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said they had targeted Stewart, 26, from the start of the offseason and felt the left-handed-hitting third baseman could benefit from a change of scenery. Stewart didn't exactly agree.
"I always felt I fit in great with the Rockies," he said. "It just didn't seem like I was given the best opportunity to play. With this situation now with Aramis Ramirez being gone and one of the guys who had a chance to play third being in this trade to go to Colorado and that spot being open, I think it gives me a great opportunity to come in and be that everyday third baseman and get those 500 to 600 at-bats that I need to be successful.
"Change of scenery, I don't know, but I think in the long run, being in a spot where I'm going to be able to play every day, I think will be the best thing for me," he said.
Stewart has exchanged text messages with his former Rockies teammate, Jeff Baker, who is now with the Cubs. He'd like to get to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, too. Hoyer said the Cubs felt Stewart was "searching" to find a good approach at the plate last season and noted how the third baseman had changed his stance more than a few times.
"There were definitely times when I was making different changes here and there and adjustments," Stewart said. "When you struggle at the big league level like I was and like guys have before, you can get desperate. There's a lot of pressure in this game to do well.
"I was willing at that point -- with how my numbers were going that year -- I was willing to try anything," he said. "When I was in Triple-A, I got a lot of great advice from our Triple-a hitting coach, Rene Lachemann. He helped me out a lot and I tried to take some of his advice to the big leagues. Some of it helped and some of it didn't."
He certainly got a boost when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called.
"Theo Epstein, just the name -- he's one of those guys in sports that everyone recognizes because of the success he brought to the Red Sox organization in such a short amount of time," Stewart said. "To hear his voice on the phone was very refreshing to me. Just to hear a different voice, and hearing him say they wanted to bring me over to be the guy at third base, it was refreshing and nice to hear, and from a guy of his, so to speak, stature in the game and front office, it definitely gives you confidence."
In another roster move Friday, the Cubs claimed Jeff Bianchi, once a highly-touted shortstop prospect of the Royals, off waivers. Bianchi, 25, was plagued by injuries after being the Royals' second-round Draft pick in 2005. He experienced back problems after he was signed, underwent shoulder surgery in '06, and missed the '10 season because of reconstructive elbow surgery.
In 2011, he batted .259 with Double-A Northwest Arkansas with two homers, 48 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 119 games, primarily as a second baseman. In '09, he split the season between Northwest Arkansas and Class A Wilmington and hit a combined .308.
With the addition of Bianchi and the Stewart deal, the Cubs' 40-man roster now stands at 36.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.