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The Atlanta Braves drafted him, but he’s now earning his stripes halfway around the world.
The Atlanta Braves made a great run in the playoffs this season, throwing off those supposed “jinxes” of having failed to advance beyond Round 1 in 20 years.
But as with other seasons, there always seems to be that one guy who wins the prize as a former Brave… even as Atlanta itself comes up short.
In recent years, those names have included Dan Uggla and Tim Hudson (both as Giants), Johnny Venters (Nationals), and both Brian McCann and Evan Gattis (though their Astros rings are obvious a bit in question).
Soon there might be another one, though this is about a kid barely 21 years old who the Braves decided was damaged goods.
Carter Stewart, drafted 8th overall in 2018 by the Atlanta Braves, was subsequently rejected by them due to a report from his team physical about a ligament issue in his throwing wrist.
In the days following that physical, the Braves offer to Stewart dropped dramatically: from an initially-agreed-to $4 million to the minimum required to guarantee draft compensation in 2019 (around $2 million).
Stewart’s family and representation both opted to hold the Braves’ feet to the fire and chose not to sign at that reduced amount — a complication that held its own consequences since that also reduced the amount of pool monies Atlanta had available to spend on draftees that Summer… a reduction of $4.987 million, in fact.
In the end, Atlanta survived a grievance filing and Stewart got his money elsewhere (more on that in a sec). That compensation pick turned into catcher Shea Langeliers via the 2019 draft.
Landing on His Feet
About a month prior to that 2019 draft, the now 19-year-old Stewart went for the unexpected: he signed a deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
The terms of that deal were a bit sketchy: “more than $4 million”, though he was believed to have been looking for something close to $7 million. Later reports pegged the numbers at 6 years and that higher $7 million figure.
This was after he’d recorded a 1.70 ERA for the Eastern Florida State Junior College Titans over 74 innings. I guess that wrist was okay.
Had he re-entered the draft in 2019 — which was his right — a $4 million guarantee would have been the equivalent of the 14th overall pick in 2019. $7 million would clearly have been in the Top 3 or 4… so Fukuoka clearly offered enough to buy Stewart out of the draft.
So that leads us to 2020 in the NPB minors, and with precious little experience, Stewart brought his imposing 6’6″ size to the Hawks minor league-equivalent roster this year.
He fared… okay: 15 games, a 3-7 record, and a 4.16 ERA over 67.0 innings… more than any other pitcher in the entire Atlanta Braves organization threw in 2020 (okay, unless you add in Fried’s 23.2 post-season innings).
His WHIP was high at 1.463, thanks to a walk rate of 4.4 — but that was probably inevitable given his experience. But for a kid basically still fresh off the plane in a foreign land… not half bad.
Things are a bit different in Japan, as you might expect. Those 67 innings actually represented the second-highest total on that team’s entire staff. Koutaro Ohtake was first at 92.1 innings; no one else had more than 60.0 other than Stewart.
But even though Stewart technically had the worst record on the team, the Hawks could afford to carry him through the experience… turns out they were pretty good: a 75-43 record and first place in the Western League by six games.
The Braves had four players make the 2020 All-MLB team, which was announced Wednesday night. They led the majors with three players on the first team.
MLB established first- and second-team honors last winter, mirroring a similar process done in the NFL and NBA. The teams feature a catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, three outfielders, five starters and two relievers.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who won National League MVP, was named the first-team All-MLB first baseman. Marcell Ozuna was named first-team All-MLB designated hitter. Left-hander Max Fried was named one of the first-team starters. Outfielder Ronald Acuna made the second team.
Freeman was the best player in baseball, hitting .341/.462/.640 while providing his usual stellar defense. He was the centerpiece of an offense that would’ve shattered franchise records during a normal 162-game season. Freeman won the NL MVP, Silver Slugger and Hank Aaron Award.