Taylor Pacis/Daily. Buy this photo.

One year ago, graduate center fielder Joe Stewart wasn’t sure if he would ever step on a baseball field again. But after a breakout senior season at Michigan State, former Michigan head coach Erik Bakich took a chance on the graduate transfer. Following a stellar season, he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  with the No. 268 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft.

The unrelenting work ethic and pure athleticism he displayed throughout this past season with the Wolverines facilitated drastic improvements from his 2021 season, and it translated to  on-field success.

“Joe Stewart comes to mind,” Bakich said when asked which players turned heads in preseason practices. “He’s probably the most improved player from when he first got here. … He stands out, I think he’s got a chance to have a special year.”

Stewart thrived in the Michigan system, quickly carving out his role as the number two hitter in the batting lineup behind junior right fielder Clark Elliott, who was selected earlier in the draft by the Oakland Athletics with the No. 69 pick. Slashing .349/.572/.981, Stewart led the team in batting average and stolen bases.

And his growth and success throughout the season didn’t go unnoticed by opposing coaches. Stewart was named to the third team All-Big Ten and the All-NCAA Louisville Regional Team.

Stewart produced for Michigan  all year, but his greatest strength was showing up in big spots  against rivals in key games.

In the Wolverines’ three-game sweep against the Spartans, Stewart hit two home runs, brought  in four RBIs and scored five runs on his former field. His best performance came on April 23 in a win over Ohio State.

Against the Buckeyes pichers in a late-April matchup, Stewart put on a historic performance, smashing three home runs — two of which were grand slams — and tallying 11 RBIs. He set the Big Ten record for RBIs in a game and put on a show.

“Joe has been awesome,” Bakich said after the Ohio State game. “He’s just been awesome. He’s played good center field, he’s done a good job hitting the top of our order and setting the table and he’s the lethal combination of speed and power. … ​​His best days of baseball are ahead of him.”

Now, Stewart will take his tools to Anaheim. Despite already being 24, his combination of strength and speed is enticing at the next level  — and clearly the Angels agreed. 

After nearly saying goodbye to the diamond entirely a year ago, Stewart has a chance with the Angels to make a mark on the farm system and to play at the highest level.