Cincinnati Reds rookie right-hander Robert Stephenson is scheduled to make his major league debut today against the Philadelphia Phillies. Stephenson is one of the top young pitching arms in baseball but there's considerable uncertainty about his short-term outlook. Here's a quick take.
First, from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-2 WT: 190 DOB February 24, 1993
2012: Grade B; 2013: Grade B+; 2014: Grade A; 2015: Grade A-
I remain enamored with Robert Stephenson. Although he didn’t throw quite as hard last year, we’re still talking about consistent 92-95 MPH velocity with plus movement. He still has a plus curveball, and last year he made significant improvements with his change-up. Three big league quality pitches, movement that borders on electric, good strikeout rates, low hit rates. For all that, Stephenson doesn’t dominate as much as he should due to inconsistent command and bouts of overthrowing. These issues weren’t as bad as they were in 2014 but they are still there; he hasn’t fully turned the corner from thrower to pitcher yet. Stephenson is frequently compared to Homer Bailey and the comparison makes sense in more ways than one. It would not take much sharpening for Stephenson to blossom into a true number one ace, but is also possible he may bounce between dominance and mediocrity for some time, as Bailey did. I fully admit that the metrics don’t back up instincts in this case, but my gut call is to stay with Stephenson as a Grade A-.
Stephenson put up some ugly numbers in spring training: his ERA was 9.58 in 10.1 innings, with 12 hits and seven walks allowed. He did fan 11 and the issue this spring was command, not stuff, which fits into his established narrative. In all honesty Stephenson is only here because Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani are on the disabled list. DeSclafani should be back soon and Stephenson will likely head to Triple-A even if he pitches well in this spot start, according to C. Trent Rosencrans at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
As noted, I really like Stephenson's upside potential, perhaps more than is justified by the numbers. On the right day he shows three plus pitches with solid command and can overpower anyone. On the wrong day his command wobbles, resulting in too many walks in some games and/or excess hittability in others. He really does remind me of Homer Bailey at the same stage, trying to put together the pitching feel to make the most of his excellent arm.
It will be damn interesting to see him go up against the Phillies today. We will review his performance tomorrow.
Video from RedsMinorLeagues