Stewart, Soto earn Minor League honors

Outfielder, lefty are Player, Pitcher of the Year in Tigers' organization

Stewart, Soto earn Minor League honors

KANSAS CITY -- Christin Stewart's ups and downs at Double-A Erie ended with him posting virtually the same power-packed numbers this season as he did in his breakout 2016 campaign. Gregory Soto's focus on locating his fastball and pitching efficiently set him up for a breakout season at Class A West Michigan.

The respective efforts earned Stewart and Soto postseason honors as the Tigers' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year. Depending on how the Tigers' rebuilt outfield sorts out next spring, it could earn Stewart a spot on Detroit's doorstep next year.

"You have to let everything happen in time," cautions Stewart, a former first-round compensation Draft pick, currently ranked seventh on MLBPipeline.com's Tiger prospect rankings. "The only things you can control are attitude and effort."

It took an effort for Stewart to work his way out of early and midseason slumps as he tried to follow up on his power numbers from last year -- numbers that helped him vault up the rankings all the way to second, entering the season. After batting .295 with six home runs and a .991 OPS in April, he hit .235 with 33 strikeouts, despite seven homers in May. He hit .317 with five homers and 21 RBIs in June, but just .195 with 30 strikeouts in July, squelching any thought of a late-season promotion to Triple-A Toledo.

"I had a pretty good June, and going into July, I just started trying to do too much and not staying within myself," Stewart said. "I think at some point I tried to get too big with my swing and I wasn't seeing pitches too well. I had to go back to the basics."

Once he did, he finished strong, batting .255 with six homers over the season's final month.

"He's got tremendous power, obviously," Erie manager Lance Parrish said last month, "and he goes through stretches where he hits the ball great. And then there's other times where it's like, 'Man, what happened?' But as I've explained to these guys, the difference with the big league guys is that they're more consistent. Those stretches are fewer and far between, and they don't last very long. That's what you're working toward. It's a tough game."

After all that, Stewart finished with a .256 batting average, 29 doubles, 28 home runs and 86 RBIs. That looks a lot like last season, when Stewart hit .255 with 24 doubles, 30 homers and 87 RBIs between Erie and Class A Lakeland. The difference was that his walk rate fell and his strikeout rate rose, resulting in a drop in his OPS from .903 to .836.

He'll have another challenge if he's promoted to Triple-A next year. He could also end up in Major League camp next Spring Training.

"I love the challenge," he said. "Each time you move up, it does get a little bit harder. I think if I am up at the next level, it doesn't always have to be a home run. Sometimes, you just have to get on base."

Gregory Soto

Soto, an international signing out of the Dominican Republic five years ago, wasn't even ranked among the Tigers' top 30 prospects when the season began. He changed that by going 10-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 starts for West Michigan, striking out 116 batters over 96 innings. He finished the season at Lakeland, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts for the Flying Tigers.

Soto, currently ranked 13th among Tigers prospects, said through translator Bryan Loor-Almonte that he worked on controlling his fastball better as well as improving his slider to the point where he felt confident throwing it for strikes.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.