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Jonathan Mayo

Tigers in AFL: Stewart wrapping exciting first full season

MLB Pipeline checks in on Detroit's prospects in the Arizona Fall League

Tigers in AFL: Stewart wrapping exciting first full season

Back in June, Tigers outfield prospect Christin Stewart was having a fine first full season as a pro after the Tigers took him the first round of the 2015 Draft when he got a phone call from the front office telling him to prepare for a trip to San Diego. He would be representing the organization in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in July, but he couldn't share the news right away.

"I was on the bus going to a road game, then [Tigers farm director] Dave Owen called me and told me," Stewart said. "I was ecstatic. I was so pumped, but it didn't come out publicly for a little while, so I had to keep it to myself."

He didn't have to be as secretive when he found out he'd be playing in the Arizona Fall League. Even after 128 games and 443 at-bats, reaching Double-A in his first full season, the Tigers' No. 3 prospect was nearly as excited about being informed of that news as he was about the Futures Game.

Stewart on Futures Game

"I was like, 'Wow, this is pretty awesome!' when I got that call," Stewart said. "This is the spot to be for up-and-coming prospects. Being here is a blessing, being able to compete with these guys. Coming out here every day and learning from teammates who have had success in the Minor Leagues, some of them have big league time … feeding off of them and learning from them is awesome."

• Complete Arizona Fall League coverage

They can likely learn from him as well, at the very least about power. Stewart hit 30 home runs combined in 2016, leading the Tigers organization and tying him for fifth among all Minor League sluggers. His .517 slugging percentage also topped his system, and while he did strike out 131 times, his 86 walks led to an impressive .386 on-base percentage.

"It was a great experience," Stewart said of his first full season. "I loved it. Great teammates, I had fun playing with the guys."

Most of that experience came in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, typically known as a pitching-friendly circuit. Yet Stewart hit 24 homers and slugged .534 in 104 games before his promotion to Double-A Erie. He led the FSL in both of those categories even though he played nearly all of August up a level.

Stewart, who will play in Saturday's Fall Stars Game -- the AFL's version of the Futures Game -- did struggle a bit following that promotion. He's taking that experience and using it to learn while in Arizona, continuing to refine his approach at the plate while working on his outfield defense. But even with his struggles in Erie, Stewart can look at his first full season -- Fall League included -- as a huge positive moving forward.

"It gave you some confidence, coming here and then going into next year and Spring Training," Stewart said. "Just being able to compete at this level, you can't really beat that."

Tigers hitters in the Fall League

Grayson Greiner, C
JaCoby Jones, OF

A 6-foot-6 catcher taken out of the University of South Carolina in the third round of the 2014 Draft, Greiner suffered through a miserable first full season in 2015. But he erased it with a strong 2016 campaign, reaching Double-A while hitting a combined .293 with a .763 OPS. The Tigers' No. 26 prospect also threw out 33 percent of would-be basestealers, 44 percent after his promotion up to the Eastern League.

Jones on trade to Tigers

Jones was playing in the AFL a year ago, just a few months after being traded from the Pirates to the Tigers in a deadline deal, when he was suspended for testing positive for a "drug of abuse." It cost him the chance to play in both the Fall Stars and the Championship Game. He did return and played well enough to earn his first big league callup. Detroit's No. 9 prospect played third base in the AFL last year, but this time around, he's seeing a lot of time in center field.

Tigers pitchers in the Fall League

Artie Lewicki, RHP
Adam Ravenelle, RHP
Jeff Thompson, RHP
Spencer Turnbull, RHP

A right-hander taken from the University of Virginia in the eighth round of the 2014 Draft, Lewicki has had a hard time staying healthy. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013, while in college, then missed two months in 2015 with a pectoral injury. He did reach Double-A this past season, but he also missed more than a month with another pectoral strain. Detroit's No. 23 prospect has been pitching out of the bullpen for Salt River, perhaps a sign of a role change.

The Tigers nabbed Ravenelle from Vanderbilt in the fourth round of that 2014 Draft, and the reliever split the 2016 season between Lakeland and Erie. The Tigers' No. 20 prospect seems to have put finger tendon and blister issues behind him, striking out nearly a batter per inning this past year. A strong AFL could catapult him into big league bullpen plans at some point in 2017.

Top Prospects: Ravenelle, DET

Thompson slipped off the radar when he missed nearly all of the 2014 season with shoulder problems. The big right-hander has returned with relatively solid, and healthy, seasons in 2015 and 2016. Now 25, he's working out of the bullpen in the AFL, with that possibly being his best chance at impacting a Maor League staff.

Turnbull was arguably the most consistent starting pitching prospect in the Tigers system in 2015, but a shoulder impingement in 2016 allowed him to accrue just 44 1/3 innings. Another 2014 draftee in the Fall League, Detroit's No. 12 is trying to make up for some lost innings and is the lone Tiger pitcher who is starting this fall.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.