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March 13, 2012 posted by Paul Greco

Fantasy Baseball 2012 – Breakout Players: Ian Stewart?!

Fantasy Baseball 2012 – Breakout Players: Ian Stewart?!
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Ian Stewart, Third Baseman, Chicago Cubs

Ian Stewart has been the bane of my existence over the last five years. As a Colorado Rockies fan, little was more frustrating than watching Stewart mash PCL pitching with Colorado Springs (AAA) before laying egg after egg in Denver.

Stewart’s disastrous 2011 season ended with a wrist injury. The ailment continued to plague him into November  and General Manager Dan O’Dowd decided to get anyone with a pulse for both Stewart and Chris Iannetta this offseason. Although the moves were supported by many, there is a definite sense of disappointment knowing that neither prospect will amount to what they were projected to become.

Stewart is the prototypical example of a player that puts far too much pressure on himself. From the outside looking in, fans expect Rockies hitters to kill the ball at home because the ballpark has been unable to shed its late-90’s reputation as a launching pad. While the gap has been significantly reduced between present-day Coors Field and the rest concerning HR numbers, the idea that someone with Stewart’s raw power should be hitting 30 HR is a belabored topic in the Colorado media. If someone tells you that you’re not very good enough times, you’re probably going to start to believe it after awhile.

Although Stewart strikes out too much (K% projects to be around 25%) and has gotten the reputation of having poor plate discipline, his BB% hasn’t changed throughout his career (averaging 10%). It’s very difficult to draw major conclusions about his 2011 season when he only had 136 PA. His career plate discipline numbers suggest that he’s a below average contact hitter who has a swinging strike % that needs to, but probably never will, come down. We all knew this about 4 years ago, though, when we bought high on him in fantasy drafts.

What really makes Ian Stewart worth owning?

First, you’re not going to pay anything to get him. According to mockdraftcentral.com, Stewart is the 28th 3B off the board and has only been selected in 1% of all drafts qualifying for statistical compilation. Once you get to the point where you’re selecting backups, players like Mike Aviles (who I’m high on this year) seem to carry more weight because they are eligible at multiple positions. Stewart is yours if you want him and you believe he’s capable of being a productive hitter.

Encouragingly, Chicago Cubs Manager Dave Sveum has announced that Stewart will not be involved in a platoon this season.  Stewart appears on track to win the starting job with the Cubs and his competition doesn’t really inspire much confidence. Although Jeff Baker hits lefties extremely well (he’s a career .309 hitter against them), it’s hard to imagine that Darwin Barney will keep Stewart out of the line-up. He’s a superior talent and his ceiling isn’t any different than it was as a 23-year-old. Stewart is also solid enough defensively that he won’t be playing himself out of the line-up.

Raw power doesn’t simply vanish into thin air. It’s not like Stewart has turned into a twig and isn’t capable of getting the ball out of the infield.  He stays in a hitter’s park and gets to travel to three others (MIL, HOU, and CIN) that are all hitter-friendly. The NL West, by comparison, was pretty lousy with SD, SF, and LAD. Wrigley also has some of the shortest power alleys in the Majors (368 to right-center and left-center) which could play to Stewart’s advantage.

The last is obviously the fact that he simply has a change of scenery. Listening to trade rumors and unmet expectations isn’t an easy way to work every day. His head will be clear and he has a great chance with an organization full of energy under a new regime.

Stewart should get 475 AB in 2012. For a guy that hovers at a 15% HR/FB rate, Stewart could easily hit 25 HR, drive in 70, and score 70 runs. Even if we take my projections at 80% (20 HR, 56 RBI, 56 R), you’ll still be pleased especially for someone that shouldn’t be shouldering the load on your fantasy team.

It’s now or never for Ian Stewart. If he plays close to his potential, you make one of the biggest profits of your fantasy draft. He’s the same guy that he was 4 years ago and his flaws (increasing K%) are all mental and correctable. Take a stab at him. If he busts, at least you didn’t pay anything to get him.

Paul finished the 2011-2012 Fantasy Football season as the #1 Weekly Rankings & Projections winner of the 411Fantasy Expert Challenge. He also finished 2nd in the FantasyPros.com Expert Draft Accuracy Challenge in 2011. Top 10 Finisher in the FSWA Fantasy Football Draft Projections. Paul is also apart of baseballs elite as a member of Tout Wars. You can follow me on Twitter @PaulGreco
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