The Cincinnati Reds have a long list of competitors for the last spot in the rotation, but the former top prospect has the edge.
Robert Stephenson’s reputation has taken a hit over the last year with the Cincinnati Reds. Entering 2016 he was the top prospect in the entire organization. A year later and he has dropped to fourth and people are questioning his sustainability as a starter.
In 2016 Stephenson made two April starts allowing 4 earned runs over 12 innings. He won both his games to start his MLB career. He only had 4 strikeouts over those two starts, which may have made the end of the season predictable.
Stephenson made 24 starts in Louisville in 2016. He also pitched the most innings ever in his minor league career, not counting his time with the big league club. Stephenson collected 120 strikeouts over 136 2/3 innings.
When Stephenson returned in September, he was clearly out of gas. He had no quality starts when he returned, lasting five innings only once. His last start of the season, the Reds shut him down after only four innings despite his success against the eventual world champion Chicago Cubs. In order for Stephenson to be successful he has to keep his WHIP below 1.40. If he can do that, he can be successful in the rotation.
Beyond Robert Stephenson the Cincinnati Reds have a list of pitchers that want a shot in the rotation.
The greatest challenge to Stephenson is another top prospect that saw his stock plummet in 2016. Cody Reed, who came over with Brandon Finnegan in the Johnny Cueto deal, got his first taste of MLB action in 2016 with the Reds making his debut in Miami. He started 10 games with a WHIP of 1.80, but his talent is noticeable.
The next in-line would be the prospect that passed both Stephenson and Reed up during the season in the rankings, Amir Garrett. 96 of Garrett’s 100 minor league appearances have come as a starting pitcher. He progressed all the way up to Triple-A where he kept his WHIP at a nice, low 1.17.
After the two top prospects, there is a line of secondary prospects who hope that a strong spring will carry them into the rotation. Rookie Davis, Ismael Guillon, Tyrell Jenkins, Tyler Mahle, and Sal Romano all have illusions of grandeur where the rotation is concerned. Davis, Guillon, and Jenkins all have outside shots, but none should expect to be in the rotation to start the season.
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With three starters just having to stay healthy to be in the rotation, there is only one spot open to true competition. Stephenson showed early in the season that he could pitch in the big leagues. In the spring he just has to do it again.