01/28/11 2:35 PM EST
Stewart, Rockies avoid arbitration
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Well, he'll be his old self, only richer. Stewart and the Rockies agreed on a one-year, $2.2875 million contract on Friday, avoiding arbitration. Stewart can earn an additional $62,500 if he reaches 600 plate appearances.
With that out of the way, Stewart is out to show that the growing pains he's experienced over the past four seasons are just that, and he'll reach the stardom predicted for him when the Rockies made him their top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
Stewart has hit .245 with 54 homers and 181 RBIs since debuting in 2007. He showed power potential with 25 home runs in 2009, but in his two full seasons as the primary third baseman he hit .228 (2009) and .256 (2010) -- averages the Rockies believe can be higher. Now he seeks the consistency that could make him a cornerstone of future Rockies teams.
Stewart hopes a major step was a hitting session at his Asheville, N.C., home -- along with catcher Chris Iannetta -- under the tutelage of new Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford in December. Lansford was the hitting coach at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2007, when Stewart hit .323 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 34 games and put himself on the big league radar.
They not only hit, but they studied.
"The first and really the only thing he talked with me about when he came in was just getting back to hitting the ball the other way," the left-handed-hitting Stewart said. "He brought video with him from 2007. When I had a good year there and I hit for a pretty good average in the Springs, I was hitting the ball the other way.
"He said pretty much since I've been in the big leagues, that's one of the things that's kind of haunted me -- I've gotten pull-conscious and haven't used the whole field like I did in the Minor Leagues. So he wanted me to back off the plate and really work on hitting the ball the other way and getting the confidence back -- that I can hit the ball that way."
Last season consisted of two torrid streaks -- .293 with four home runs and 12 RBIs through his first 22 games, and .308 with three homers and nine RBIs in 21 August contests -- interspersed with some dry spells. In fairness, his final numbers were affected by a 1-for-15 finish in his final six games, after he had missed five weeks with a right oblique strain.
With all that behind him, Stewart sees opportunity.
If Stewart is sharp, he could earn the No. 5 spot in the Rockies' regular lineup. Hitting behind No. 3 hitter Carlos Gonzalez and cleanup hitter Troy Tulowitzki could lead to many opportunities with runners on base.
It's clear the Rockies are asking Stewart to prove himself.
In the arbitration process, Stewart filed for $2.6 million and the team offered $2.15 million. The base salary was much closer to the team's offer. But the Rockies have shown through long-term deals for Gonzalez and Tulowitzki that they're willing to spend for young hitters who can make a lineup dominant.
"I was a little disappointed that after I came back after those five weeks I got one hit, but I feel I've improved every year," Stewart said. "I feel like I need to continue to improve. Maybe career-wise, for me with the Rockies, maybe I need to drastically improve. But I feel good where I'm at and hopefully I can make that happen."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.