Robert Stephenson “has all of the ingredients to become a frontline starter,” according to Baseball America; the only problem is that he’s going to have to wait his turn before he’s pitching at the top of the Reds’ rotation.
The Cincinnati Reds signed Stephenson for $2 million in 2011 as the No. 27 overall pick in the draft. His arsenal includes a fastball with excellent movement at 93-95, a changeup that projects as a plus pitch and a curveball with similar potential. According to Baseball America, Stephenson “has a good feel for his secondary pitches,” and combined with a fastball has reached 100 mph, the sky is the limit for the young right-hander.
Beginning the 2013 season at single-A, Stephenson overmatched his competition with 96 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched leading to 0.99 WHIP and 4.80 K/BB. Stephenson was then promoted to high-A where he continued to excel and finished the season with 16.2 innings pitched at double-A. While he accelerated through the minors last season, the Reds will likely give Stephenson the entire year at double-A in 2014 to build up his stamina and prepare for a potential rotation spot in 2015.
The only problem for Reds fans is that seeing Stephenson at Great American Ballpark means saying goodbye to Homer Bailey next year. Johnny Cueto isn’t going anywhere; he is signed through 2014 with a 2015 $10 million team option. Mat Latos and Mike Leake will be both arbitration eligible for the third and final time before the 2015 season, and Tony Cingrani won’t be arbitration eligible until 2016. With the young pitching talent the Reds have locked up through 2015 and beyond, there is no way for Stephenson to crack the rotation without letting Bailey leave via free agency.
As for 2014 Spring Training, Stephenson will be exciting to watch but he will ultimately head to the minor leagues at the end of March. As a starting pitcher, the Reds likely will not want to stretch Stephenson’s innings too far so a late season call-up to the bullpen is unlikely. However, if Stephenson excels enough early on, there is a possibility that he could be called upon to join the Reds’ bullpen midseason and still keep his total innings in check.