Tigers' No. 3 prospect clears bases with timely double for Salt River
By Mike Rosenbaum
After getting off to slow start in the Arizona Fall League, Christin Stewart is making the most of his final weeks in the desert.
Stewart, the Tigers' No. 3 prospect, went 2-for-4 on Friday to extend his hitting streak to nine games, while his bases-clearing double in the top of the sixth inning helped propel the Salt River Rafters to a 6-4 win over the Peoria Javelinas at Peoria Stadium.
"I just wasn't trying to do too much," Stewart, who also drew a walk and stole a base in the game, said of his big hit. "The bases were juiced, and your adrenaline is always going in those situations, so I was looking to get something I could handle and put a good path on it and make hard contact."
Selected by the Tigers in the first round of the 2015 Draft (No. 34 overall), Stewart hit 30 home runs combined in 2016 -- his first full professional season -- between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie to pace the Tigers organization and finish fifth in the Minors. The 22-year-old outfielder also topped Detroit's system with a .517 slugging percentage, and while he did strike out 131 times, his 86 walks led to an impressive .386 on-base percentage.
That success has aided Stewart in the Fall League, where he's seen his average jump from .148 to .271 during his ongoing hitting streak. In that span, he's posted a .375 average with five extra-base hits and 10 runs scored.
"After the season, I went to [fall instruction league] before coming here and having to get my feet wet again," Stewart said. "When you start off slow, it's hard to get that confidence up. But having a little bit of success, and trying to keep it going, has helped me build confidence every day.
"Having success this year gave me confidence coming here, especially knowing that I could succeed at this level. It was a really fun season."
Peoria bounced back in the following frame to take a 2-1 lead on Zach Vincej's two-run home run to left field. The Reds' farmhand finished 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBIs, adding to what has been a breakout fall campaign for the 25-year-old shortstop. Vincej improved his batting line to a robust .380/.456/.780 with Friday's performance, and he now ranks among the top two in the circuit with four home runs and 18 RBIs.
But the Rafters would tie the game in the fifth inning courtesy of a Kevin Cron (D-backs) RBI single, setting the stage for their four-run outburst in the subsequent frame. Pat Valaika (Rockies) pushed across the inning's first run with a single ahead of Stewart, whose line-drive double to center field extended Salt River's lead to 6-2.
The Javelinas made things interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth but ultimately stranded the tying run on second base against Salt River closer Adam Ravenelle (Tigers' No. 20).
Stewart wasn't the only Rafter to have a big game at the plate. Scivicque went 4-for-4 with a double to improve his Fall League average to .433 (13-for-30) through eight games, while Brewers No. 8Isan Diaz (No. 96 overall) finished 1-for-4 with a double and two runs scored out of the leadoff spot. Phillips, meanwhile, turned in a 1-for-2 performance that also saw him score once and reach base three times via walks.
After throwing 44 pitches in the first two innings, Honeywell settled in to strike out three of the final five hitters he faced before departing the game with two outs in the fourth and 67 pitches thrown (42 strikes). Altogether, the Rays' No. 2 prospect (No. 39 overall) allowed two hits and one walk while fanning six of 14 batters in the outing.
The D-backs' Jared Miller has stood out as one of the top hurlers in the Fall League, posting a perfect 0.00 ERA across eight appearances while pitching exclusively out of Salt River's bullpen. In that span, the 6-foot-7 left-hander has yielded just four hits in 14 innings, with 25 strikeouts and two walks.
On Friday, Miller, 23, tacked on two more frames to his scoreless streak, allowing one hit and one walk with two strikeouts, in his first Fall League start as well as his first start of 2016.
The win pushed Salt River (13-12-1) into a first-place tie with Mesa atop the AFL East. Peoria (13-11-2), meanwhile, lost for the eighth time in 10 games and is now tied with Surprise atop the West Division standings.
The AFL's two division winners will meet in a one-game playoff for the league title on Nov. 19.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.