Commentary

30 Questions: Will Stewart find playing time?

Updated: March 30, 2009, 1:51 PM ET
By Jason Grey | ESPN.com

Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.

Will Ian Stewart ever get regular playing time, and what can we expect from him if he does?

Too often, fantasy players get too hung up on whether or not a player has a starting job on Opening Day. They want the comfort of that regular lineup spot, and sometimes downgrade a player too much if the playing time is a bit uncertain. I'm guilty of it at times as well.

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It's why a player like the Tigers' Marcus Thames is constantly overlooked, even in AL-only leagues, despite averaging 23 homers a year for the past three seasons, and getting no more than 348 at-bats in any of them.

Don't make the same mistake with Ian Stewart, especially if you are in an NL-only league.

A third baseman by trade, there is seemingly no room for him in the Rockies' lineup, with Todd Helton healthy and hitting for power again this spring after back surgery and Garrett Atkins manning the hot corner.

However, in the interest of keeping the 35-year-old Helton healthy, manager Clint Hurdle has already said that he will give Helton some regular rest this season, and that the forecast is for Helton to play about 130 games if all goes well. On the days Helton is out of the lineup, Atkins will shift over to first base, allowing Stewart to start at third. Stewart will grab a start here and there from Atkins at third, and he may also see some occasional spot starts in left field when the Rockies want to get his bat in the lineup.

However, the most interesting development for Stewart's playing time comes at second base. Early in camp, Hurdle said Stewart would only play second for the Rockies this season if injuries forced him into the position. As camp went on, that position was altered, and Stewart was seen taking grounders at second during batting practice last week.

Clint Barmes, the putative starter at second, has not had a strong spring, and Hurdle has stated in the past that he doesn't view Jeff Baker as an everyday player, but more of a super-utility guy. Regardless, Baker has battled an elbow injury all spring, and is the subject of much trade speculation as we enter the final week of camp, given that he is out of options. It's not inconceivable to see a scenario where a slow-starting or inconsistent Barmes gives way to Stewart, or to see Stewart see more time at second base than originally thought.

Ian Stewart
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesA third baseman by trade, Ian Stewart could also end up at second base and left field at different times this season.
The bottom line is that it is totally possible to see Stewart grabbing at least 450 at-bats this season at a variety of positions, even if he is not named a "starter" at one of them as the season opens.

So having established that Stewart is going to get some playing time, what could he do with it?

After having his power output depressed a little bit for a couple of seasons in the minors due to wrist problems, he hit 19 homers and slugged .607 at hitting-friendly Colorado Springs last year, and added another 10 homers in 266 at-bats in the big leagues. Striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats at the big league level was a little disconcerting. However, his strikeout numbers should improve given his youth, the fact it was his first extended exposure to big league pitching and his minor league track record. Stewart has a career .373 on-base percentage in the minors to go along with a .293 batting average and .524 slugging percentage, with almost half of his at-bats coming at the upper levels.

Stewart has also made some slight mechanical tweaks in his swing that have resulted in more loft and made him more of a fly-ball hitter, which can only be helpful in Coors Field. He's ready to hit for pop in the big leagues right now.

Given the 450 at-bats I mentioned earlier, it's entirely plausible to see Stewart be a .265-.270 hitter with 18-20 homers, and around the 75 mark in both runs and RBIs. We'll also throw in five steals. As he is likely to add eligibility at second and the outfield over the course of the season, coupled with the relative lack of depth at second base this year compared to previous seasons, don't make the mistake of overlooking Stewart on draft day.

Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.