The first impression on seeing Florida State’s D.J. Stewart is that Jimbo Fisher is missing out on a linebacker.
Stewart looks the part, a 6-foot, 230-pound outfielder with thick shoulders and forearms, not to mention a slightly intimidating goatee. The junior is a very good hitter, has good speed, can cover left field and may be a first-round pick next month when the Major League Baseball amateur draft is held.
Stewart also was a good high-school football player at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. While Fisher, the Noles’ football coach, didn’t recruit him, longtime FSU baseball coach Mike Martin has been happy to have him bolster his lineup for three seasons.
Stewart was the ACC player of the year in 2014. He has earned All-America honors and was on the midseason watch list for the 2015 Golden Spikes Award.
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“He’s going to be a big-league player,” Clemson pitcher Matthew Crownover said Wednesday.
Crownover, a junior left-hander, was named the ACC pitcher of the year for 2015. But Stewart got the best of him Wednesday in the ACC Baseball Championship, ripping a two-out shot off the left-field wall in the third inning for a 2-0 lead in the Noles’ tournament opener.
Stewart never hesitated, rounding second and barreling into third for a two-run triple. He scored on a single by Quincy Nieporte and the fourth-seeded Seminoles won 3-1 as starting pitcher Boomer Biegalski and relievers Dylan Silva and Billy Strode got the job done.
“He doesn’t chase bad pitches,” Crownover said of Stewart. “With a lot of guys you can throw some pitches they’re going to chase out of the zone, but he’s not going to swing unless it’s a strike. He got me today.”
A year ago, Stewart led the ACC in hitting (.351), slugging percentage (.557) and on-base percentage (.472). With a lot of teams pitching around him this season, he was batting .326 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs before the tournament, with a .602 slugging percentage.
Wary opponents? Stewart had 62 walks in the regular season, tops in Division I, and Crownover issued him another – on four pitches – in Stewart’s first at-bat. He’s ranked third nationally in on-base percentage (.514).
“It was more frustrating early in the season because I needed to get in a rhythm,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t seeing many pitches to swing at, so sometimes I wasn’t actually swinging the bat until the second or third at-bat.
“But it’s a part of the game. I had great guys in front of me getting on base, and when they get on base I’m able to swing the bat.”
Crownover, with runners at first and third, elected to pitch to Stewart – lefty against lefty – rather than walk him and face the right-handed Nieporte, the cleanup hitter, with the bases full. Bad decision.
“I had two strikes on me, and I was just thinking opposite field, looking for a ball away,” Stewart said. “He gave me a fastball away.”
Stewart, who hits out of a low crouch, has been trailed by pro scouts again this season. He may not be a Golden Spikes winner like FSU’s Buster Posey in 2008, but Stewart could soon give the Noles another first-round draft pick.
“But I’m just focused on Florida State,” Stewart said, shrugging off such talk. “That will be there when the season’s over but right now it’s all about Florida State. It’s about us.”
Martin, in his 36th season as FSU coach, has had an extended run of baseball talent. Stewart, he said, ranks among the best.
“He reminds me of Buster the way he does what he’s supposed to do, on and off the field,” Martin said, noting Stewart had a “3.5-something” grade-point average.
Martin smiled and added, “We’ll try to keep him.” But the old coach is wise enough to know Demetrius Jerome Stewart won’t be wearing No. 8 for the Seminoles much longer.