Detroit Tigers: Two players closer to a call-up than we realize

Detroit Tigers cast-offs Christin Stewart and Renato Nunez could still find their way to the big league club in 2021

It sounds crazy, but the Detroit Tigers could find some help from a pair of players who have alienated themselves to the fanbase in their respective tenures. Christin Stewart and Renato Nunez continue to show out for the Toledo Mud Hens and might be an injury away from finding themselves back in Detroit yet this season.

It was a rough start to 2021 for both offensively. Nunez found himself in Detroit for a brief time and slashed .147/.207/.444 for the Tigers. Stewart’s first month came in May for the Mud Hens, where he hit .170/.302/.283 on the month. Although these numbers are not strong, they probably weren’t surprising to most fans, either. Nunez was a minor league signing that did not make the club out of spring training anyway; Stewart, meanwhile, struggled to a .233/.305/.388 line with 10 home runs in a season where he was essentially gifted the left-field job. Not much was to be expected, especially after Stewart’s designation on April 1.

OF Christin Stewart since June 1

All the disclaimers apply; small sample, competition, age–all of it. With that in mind, Stewart has been on a tear aside from his rough first month. Since June 1, Stewart has hit .283 with 7 home runs, 8 doubles, and 4 triples for the Mud Hens and has walked a strong 13 times across those 34 games; good for a .955 OPS and a 142 wRC+.

While he has committed just one error all season, Stewart’s defense is never likely to be his calling card, which puts an immense amount of pressure on his bat to stick at the big leagues. His numbers since June are closer to what fans expected of him at the highest level; the laundry list of injuries suggests he may get another shot to prove himself at some point in 2021.

1B Renato Nunez since June 1

Nunez’s numbers have been even more impressive, somehow. I had some concern that his own designation on April 21st would ultimately lead to him playing elsewhere, but after clearing waivers, he was able to play at the alternate training site and ultimately Toledo. After a .204/.302/.426 May, Nunez has shown strong since June 1: a .302/.407/.597 line; 10 home runs, 7 doubles, 2 triples, and 21 walks across those 40 games.

Nunez has played minimal third base in his career, so any trip to the bigs is likely going to be in a slugger 1B/DH-type role. Mainly, he may be the call-up if the club decides to trade Jonathan Schoop, who has been splitting time at second and first base this season. If that is the case, Zack Short would likely continue to get reps at shortstop with Goodrum and Harold Castro rotating around the middle of the infield.

How likely are they to play for the Detroit Tigers in 2021?

It’s so hard to see the Detroit Tigers from venturing away from this lean, athletic brand of baseball they have been playing in recent months for someone like Christin Stewart, who is known more as a thumper than a speed demon. Daz Cameron would be a better fit into what they are currently doing than someone like Stewart, who seems to be nearing a return. That said, injuries are part of what has forced the Tigers’ hand to where they are now.

The more likely candidate for a return is Nunez. Jonathan Schoop remains a 50/50 possibility to get traded at the deadline. The Detroit Tigers are not likely to want Cabrera splitting time with the utilitymen Goodrum and Castro; more likely, they could opt for someone like Nunez to fill that void as necessary in a limited role.

Ironically, the biggest threat to Nunez’s potential call-up might be Willi Castro, who plays a different position but would bring the versatility to afford manager AJ Hinch to slide Harold Castro, Niko Goodrum, or Jeimer Candelario to first base as they need to.

I’ll save you from any tired ‘bash brothers’ trademarks or ‘Crush-tin Stewart’ puns, but these two names have been raking and showing they might deserve another shot to prove their worth on the major league club.