As deadline trade rumors swirl throughout the baseball ether, one current of thought centers on the Cincinnati Reds and possible trades including starters Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake. Should a trade open up a slot in the starting rotation, one key name to watch for later this year (and most certainly 2016) is Robert Stephenson, currently pitching for the Louisville Bats in the Triple-A International League.
Drafted in the first round from a California high school in 2011, Stephenson had impressive 2012 and 2013 seasons but found the going more difficult last year on reaching Double-A Pensacola. Southern League hitters took advantage of his erratic control, knocking him for a 4.74 ERA in 137 innings. He did fan 140 and allow just 114 hits due to the quality of his stuff, but command slippages resulted in 74 walks as well as 18 homers allowed.
Stephenson returned to Pensacola to open 2015 and was more effective, posting a 3.68 ERA in 78 innings with an 89/43 K/BB. The walk rate was still rather high so it was an open question how he would adapt when he was promoted to Louisville a few weeks ago.
His first four starts: 3.27 ERA in 22 innings, 21/10 K/BB, 17 hits. This includes last night's outing against Columbus: six shutout innings on just two hits and five strikeouts, but allowing four walks.
Here's some video from Redsminorleagues.com.
Reports on Stephenson haven't changed much. He has a blistering fastball that has been clocked as high as 99 and is consistently in the mid-90s. He has a nasty curveball to match with it and has made strides with his average change-up. He has the physical package to be a number two starter and a long-duration workhorse if his command continues to improve.
Stephenson has held his own in his initial look in Triple-A, though his command remains less-than-stellar. If the Reds do dispatch one of their veteran starters to another team at the deadline, it will be interesting to see if Stephenson is the immediate beneficiary. If the Reds decide that he needs more Triple-A time, he will certainly be in the mix for 2016.