Stewart an emerging star for Rockies

Stewart an emerging star for Rockies

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart could soon become known beyond the secret of smart fantasy owners.

This season, Stewart has gone from a talented youngster whose path to the field was blocked to a power hitter who can make a lineup fearsome.

Pulse
Rockies at a glance
2009 record: 92-70
2008 record: 74-88
Clinched NL Wild Card
NLDS matchup:
Rockies at Phillies
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Gonzalez: Bat on fire
Bullpen: Hitting stride
Gonzalez: Rewarding Rox
Giambi: Impact beyond bat
Tulowitzki: Ready for return
Cook: Returns right on time
Barmes: Credit to Tracy
Marquis: Living in moment
Ubaldo: Big-game pitcher
Helton/Giambi: Leaders
Stewart: Emerging star
Tracy: Quiet leader
Street: Mutual admiration
De La Rosa: Earning trust
Ubaldo: Sending a message
Helton: Resurgent slugger
Morales: On the attack
Tulowitzki: Vigorous finish

Stewart leads a crew of players who entered this season without much history but have emerged as important players as the Rockies try to lock up a playoff berth. Those former unknowns include outfielder Seth Smith, who has gone from pinch-hit sensation to solid contributor (.294, 15 HR, 53 RBIs), former undrafted free-agent right-handed reliever Matt Daley (1-1, 3.78 ERA in 54 games) and a number of relief pitchers who were Minor League contract signees -- Matt Belisle, Randy Flores and Joel Peralta among them.

Stewart and the rest have contributed to a Rockies' team whose magic number to clinch the NL Wild Card shrunk to three (combination of wins and Braves losses) after Chris Iannetta's pinch-hit two-run homer in the 11th inning beat the Brewers, 7-5, on Tuesday night.

Stewart ranks second on the team with 25 home runs and fourth with 70 RBIs. With 19 doubles and three triples, he has a .467 slugging percentage.

However, Stewart is not as happy with his reality as he is with his fantasy impact. Stewart's .227 batting average and .322 on-base percentage suggest he's a stereotypical big-swing, big-miss power hitter.

"This year has been disappointing in a sense," said Stewart, 24, who is starting to make the impact the Rockies envisioned when they selected him in the first round, 10th overall, in 2003 out of La Quinta High School in Westminster, Calif.

"The power numbers are great," he added. "The home runs, RBIs, runs scored (73) are all the things that you want. But what's been disappointing has been my average. I'm a much better hitter than this. I try to keep things in perspective, which is win the game, it doesn't really matter how I do personally. But I realize if I want to be a starter and play every day, I've got to produce better than I am."

Stewart is 3-for-20 on this homestand. Of course, one of the three is a home run. But he is capable of going off at any time. He didn't start Tuesday night against Brewers left-hander Chris Narveson, but he'll likely return to the lineup Wednesday against righty Jeff Suppan. And he'll be swinging at Coors Field, where he has home runs in five of his last 12 games.

If the Rockies are in the playoffs and they end up facing the Phillies in the first round, manager Jim Tracy is left with a tough lineup decision. The Phils' starting group is strong from the left side. Although Stewart has a .482 slugging percentage against lefties in his career, he is three for his last 16 against them, with a homer, of course. That could mean Garrett Atkins, the player Stewart supplanted, will have a greater role.

But Stewart said he is adhering to a plan set forth by his coaches, and he hopes that translates into impact.

That's something he didn't have in 2007, when the Rockies made their miracle run to the World Series. Stewart was there for the late regular-season run but hit .209. The Rockies did not include him on the postseason roster. Instead, they sent him to instructional ball in Tucson, Ariz., to play second base. Rich Dauer, now the Rockies' third-base coach but then the Minor League infield instructor, taught Stewart the position.

Stewart benefited from it. When Atkins was producing, Stewart started games at second last year and earlier this year -- until Tracy made him the regular at third not long after taking over for Clint Hurdle on May 28.

Still, it was difficult.

"I wasn't disappointed in the team, I just wish I could have been here," Stewart said. "I watched all the games, sent text messages to all the guys telling them to keep it going.

"That was at night. During the day, I was working. Now I want to get to the playoffs and get going."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.