Zach Stewart Makes First Start, Christopher Hawkins Assigned to Dunedin

The 2 big pieces of news I wanted to chime in on today include the first start of RHP Zach Stewart, and the fact that 2010 draftee Christopher Hawkins will begin his pro career in Dunedin, at the HiA level.

Zach Stewart

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft, Zach represents the last piece of the Scott Rolen trade that could add some long-term value to the Jays. Although they acquired 3 pieces for Rolen, the Jays haven’t been able to get what they wanted out of Edwin Encarnacion, and lost RP Josh Roenicke recently to Colorado who picked him up off waivers. Therefore, if Stewart winds up being a bust, this deal will definitely wind up looking like a huge win overall for the Reds, despite Rolen’s age and his declining production.

You can read all about Stewart here, as he ranked 3rd on our pre-2011 Top 50 Jays Prospect Rankings.

He really has mediocre stats this season, despite being hotter of late. He holds a 4.39 ERA and 1.421 Whip for the 2011 season, something that is really unimpressive for a 24 year old with his quality stuff in AA.  His SO/BB ratio is at 2.33, which is right about where it has been for the majority of his minors career. The difference this season, and the reason for his stats ballooning, is that he is more hittable than ever with a 10.1 H/9 IP ratio. I have to be honest, that worries me a ton. I can’t honestly say that I expect him to dominate based on what he has done so far in 2011.

Still, if the Jays believe in him enough to call him up, they must believe he has fixed whatever problems ail him during some starts. But, what I really think is that they want to see how he responds to the pressure of pitching in The Show. He could surprise, as he has a certain coolness that keeps him performing at a higher level than most as the pressure rises. That’s why I place him as a potential closer of the future for the Jays. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I fully expect to see Zach Stewart in the pen in the not-so-distant future. If he proves me wrong, then I’ll be the first to tip my cap to him and will fully admit my error in judgment. I do understand the Jays wanting to make him a starter if they can, but if he can’t dominate AA consistently as a starter, I just can’t see him doing it in The Show.

Just to give a comparison, since returning from injury and being promoted to AA, 21 year old Henderson Alvarez has made 6 starts. In those 6 starts, he has done the following:

36 IP / 30 hits / 11 ER / 8 BB / 22 Ks

In his last 6 starts, Zach Stewart has done the following:

34 IP / 42 hits / 20 ER / 10 BB / 30 Ks

Which of those 2 lines would you call up? The hits in particular, again, are worrisome. Those of Alvarez, however, are very encouraging and I could see him getting a shot at the rotation in 2011 now, something I never expected pre-season. This isn’t to say I believe that the Jays should have called on Alvarez instead….not at all. What bothers me is the avoidance of Brad Mills, who is doing much better in AAA and definitely deserves a kick at the can. I just don’t get it.

So, the prevailing thought in my head is that the Jays have an intention of seeing how Stewart does for a few starts, and if he self-implodes, they can bring him back down and possibly think about moving him to the pen. If that happens, and Kyle Drabek succeeds in AAA, they can bring him back up quickly enough. If they had called on Brad Mills, however, and he did very well, the Jays would have been in a bind. They would have been stuck either leaving Drabek in AAA for a longer period than they expected to, or in forcing Mills back down despite his success, something the fans would definitely not be happy about. In calling on Stewart instead of Mills, the Jays place themselves in the position that has the most options remaining. Mills and Drabek are still options in the future, if Stewart doesn’t do well, they get to see if Stewart is a viable starter, can evaluate his stuff and whether they believe it would work best in the pen, and they’ll have the “we tried to make him a starter and gave him a fair shot” part to use if they make that change.

I really do hope that Zach does well, and will be watching every pitch as he takes to the mound.

Christopher Hawkins

The Jays drafted Hawkins in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft right out of HS. He is currently 19 years old, and will turn 20 in August, so when he was assigned directly to HiA Dunedin to begin his pro career, you can understand why I raised my eyebrows. This is the first time i can remember the jays pushing a position player so hard from the beginning. You have to believe that the Jays were very happy with what they saw from Christopher in extended spring training in order to make this decision.

For those who wondered why SS Kevin Nolan was recently demoted to Lansing, this is the reason. He managed a .255/.324/.350 line last year, along with 9 doubles and 3 triples in 157 ABs in the GCL in 2010. The Jays had him play 3B primarily, and he did play some games at 1B and in LF. For his first outing of 2011, it’s interesting to note that he manned LF.

Hawkins was ranked #25 on out Top 50 Prospects List and you can read Jared MacDonald’s write up on him here. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on, as he seems to be pushing all of the right buttons and could advance quickly if he does well in Dunedin for the remainder of the season.

– MG

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Tags: Brad Mills Christopher Hawkins Henderson Alvarez Zach Stewart

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