Cincinnati Reds: Robert Stephenson Spring Training preview

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The former first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds is entering the most important Spring Training of his baseball life. Out of minor league options, Robert Stephenson must make the club to continue his career in Cincinnati.

Drafting a high school pitcher, not to mention in the first round, is always a gamble.  Nonetheless, the Cincinnati Reds placed their bets in 2011 on 18-year-old Californian right-hander named Robert Stephenson.  Standing 6’3″ and possessing a fastball in the mid-90’s, it wasn’t difficult to see the potential within his electric right arm.

Despite receiving accolades and being regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Stephenson has remained more suspect than prospect.  Throughout his seven years in the Reds system, Stephenson’s numbers have never supported his lofty expectations.  Over the course of his minor league career, he has thrown 740 innings compiling a 9.6 strikeout and 4.2 walk rates per nine innings.  Quite simply, he walks too many hitters.

Given the lack of pitching depth within the Cincinnati Reds organization over the past several seasons, Stephenson has found himself on the big league staff periodically over the last three years despite his difficulty in finding the strike zone.  Needless to say, the results have not been encouraging.

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Appearing in 37 games, 22 as a starter, Stephenson has accumulated a 5.47 ERA, while striking out over 8 hitters per nine innings, but walking almost 6.  Even more puzzling has been Stephenson’s flippant attitude towards his lack of control.  Following a less than stellar performance against the New York Mets last August Stephenson told reporters “I’m not going to change anything just to avoid walking people”.

Entering the 2019 season, Stephenson is in a fight for his professional life.  Following the Reds acquisitions of Tanner Roark, Alex Wood and Sonny Gray, in addition to rotation holdovers Luis Castillo and Anthony DeScalfani, the odds are stacked against Stephenson winning a starting job.  Not to mention, with other possible rotation candidates such as Tyler Mahle and Cody Reed,  Stephenson is at best the eighth option for a starting role.

An opportunity in the bullpen is no guarantee as well.  Robert Stephenson will be battling the likes of Sal Romano, Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan and Reed for the long man role.  Considering he’s out of minor league options, the Cincinnati Reds front office must decide if he makes the team out of Spring Training or risk losing him in waivers.

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However, chances are Stephenson will never make it to waivers.  There will be teams willing to gamble they can fix the soon-to-be 26 year old right-hander’s control issues and unlock his unrealized potential.   For years Robert Stephenson has been given opportunities based more on potential than merit.  Spring Training 2019 represents the Cincinnati Reds final roll of the dice on their former first-rounder.