The Bucs picked up Zach Stewart from the Red Sox, and are probably hoping to end with another arm somewhat in the mold of Jared Hughes and Tony Watson.
Stewart, 26, is a Texan. He attended Holliday High, and was quite the jock, lettering in baseball, basketball, football, track and tennis. The righty was a standout pitcher who helped lead his team to the state tournament all four years of high school and was an All-State selection his junior and senior seasons.
He made a quick stop at Angelo State University for a semester before transferring to North Central Texas College, where he pitched 2006-07. He had a solid season in his first year as the Lions' sole freshman in the starting rotation. In his sophomore year, he became only the second Lion pitcher to be named to the All-Region Team.
With that resume, he transferred to Texas Tech University in 2008. Stewart was their closer, throwing a sinker that came in between 93-96 MPH with a plus slider, but he stepped into a starting role out of necessity later in the season for the Red Raiders.
Stewart was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 2008 draft, and signed for $450,000. The Reds saw him as a bullpen back-ender.
Looked like a smart decision, too. Stewart made his pro debut that summer for the Low Class A Dayton Dragons, allowing one earned run in 11 outings, striking out 13 in 16-1/3 IP. The Reds jumped him to High A Sarasota, where he put up a 1.63 ERA with 23 K in 16-2/3 IP. Combined, his slash was1-4-5/1.09 ERA in 24 games and 36 K in 33 IP. Baseball America ranked him as the Reds 15th best prospect after the season.
Stewart started 2009 back at Sarasota, where he was converted to a starter and went 1-1/2.13 in seven starts with solid peripherals. He moved up to Class AA Carolina 3-0, and in seven more starts there had a slash of 3-0/1.46. That earned him some time at Class AAA Louisville - and it was only late June; that's some fast tracking! The Reds reconverted him with the Bats, and he appeared only out of the pen.
After recording an 0.73 ERA in nine relief appearances with a pair of saves, Cincy made another move with Stewart. No, it wasn't to the show - on August 1st, they traded him, Edwin Encarnación and Josh Roenicke to the Toronto Blue Jays for Scott Rolen. Stewart was treated a little more rudely in the hit-happy PCL, home of the Jays' AAA Las Vegas club, ending his stint there with a 3.38 ERA and 1.8 WHIP in 13-1/3 IP, but averaging a K per frame.
Still, he was the Blue Jays top prospect going into the 2010 season with the best heater in the organization, according to Baseball America. They liked him as a starter. Stewart spent the entire 2010 campaign with the Class AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats, going 8-3/3.63 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 26 starts and 136-1/3 innings of work.
Stewart was ranked among the Blue Jays' top five prospects heading into 2011, and was assigned back to New Hampshire. On June 14th, Stewart got the call to Toronto to replace another youngster, the struggling Kyle Drabek. He took his MLB career bow on June 16th, and after making 3 starts (0-1/4.86), Stewart was optioned back to the Fisher Cats in late June. Stewart went 5-5/4.20 there, and was about to pack his bags again.
On July 27th, Stewart was traded to the Chicago White Sox along with Jason Frasor for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen. He was plugged into the rotation, and on August 6th, he earned his first big league victory, 6–1 over the Minnesota Twins. He had another highlight on September 5th, going seven perfect frames against the Twins before Danny Valencia broke it up to open the eighth.
Last season, Stewart spent most of the early season in the White Sox bullpen, and was 1-2/6.00 in 30 IP with pretty weak peripherals. In June, he logged some more plane miles when he was traded to the Red Sox with Brent Lillibridge for Kevin Youkilis and cash.
He was assigned to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, where he went 3-5/3.94 and pitched pretty well except for a low K rate of five whiffs per nine. He got a couple of late year starts for Boston and was crushed, giving up 14 runs in 5-2/3 innings. He was sent back to Pawtucket, and on November 20th, Stewart was DFA'ed.
On November 28th, the Pirates acquired Stewart from the Red Sox in exchange for a PTBNL, who ended up being Kyle Kaminska.
His sinking fastball sits at ninety and leads to a lot of grounders (50%), and his out pitch is a slider. He also shows a changeup. Stewart has averaged just under six K per nine with two walks, and surrenders 2.2 homers per game, double the usual MLB rate. His velocity is down from his earlier days, but is reported to pick up a couple of ticks when he's working from the pen rather than starting.
Stewart looks like a guy that needs direction; he's spent his entire pro career from Class A to the show yanked between relief and starting. The bullpen looks like his niche; he is basically a two-pitch pony with the sinker/slider combo. His story sounds a lot like that of Hughes and Watson, and we think that's where his future lies. And the guys he was traded for - Scott Rolen, Edwin Jackson and Kevin Youkilis - indicates that scouts see something in his arm.
He's on the 40-man roster, but does have an option remaining, so the FO has a season to fit him into a role if he doesn't claim the Chris Resop spot out of camp.