Cincinnati Reds: This is Robert Stephenson’s last chance

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 15: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Great American Ball Park on August 15, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 15: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Great American Ball Park on August 15, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Robert Stephenson will take the mound today for the Cincinnati Reds in Cactus League action. This is his last chance to make an impression on the coaching staff and secure a spot on the 25-man roster.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and this is Robert Stephenson‘s chance with the new Cincinnati Reds‘ coaching staff. The former first-round pick is out of options and draws the start in today’s Cactus League game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Does Stephenson really have a chance to make the Opening Day roster?

If you’re asking me, I would unequivocally tell you no, but I don’t make the roster decisions. Stephenson was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft and was thought at one time to be the next big thing for the Cincinnati Reds.

In 37 games, including 22 starts, Stephenson has a career record of 7-11 with an ERA of 5.47. Last year, Stephenson went 0-2 in 4 games with a 9.26 ERA across 11.2 innings pitched. He had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) and a WHIP of 2.486.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the Cincinnati Reds continue to give Stephenson opportunities. Yes, his minor league career is impressive. In 141 games, Stephenson has 788 strikeouts in 740 innings pitched, a career ERA of 3.77 and a WHIP of 1.247. Those numbers are great, but it never translates to the major leagues.

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Year after year, Stephenson dominates the minor league circuit only to get shellacked once he gets called up. One of his biggest issues is finding the strike zone. Robert Stephenson can blow his fastball by minor league hitters, but never seems to be able to locate it once he finds his way onto the Reds’ roster. In the major leagues, you must throw strikes. Period!

Just last year, in his first start of the season, the Reds were playing the New York Mets and Stephenson walked pitcher Jacob deGrom on four straight pitches. Oh yeah, that was with the bases loaded, so the free pass to deGrom walked in a run and gave the Mets a 2-0 lead

Walks have been a consistent problem for Stephenson and one that he refuses to correct. After that same game against the Mets last season that saw him walks five batters, yes five, in four innings, Stephenson showed no accountability when it comes to walking opposing batters. Here’s a quote from Stephenson via John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I think the biggest thing for me is it’s part of my game. I realize I walk people and obviously want to cut that. But I’m not going to change anything just to avoid walking people.”

What?! You walked five batters in four innings and are not going to even attempt to make changes that will help you avoid putting runners on base? Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, keeping my slider up in the zone is part of my game and if opposing batters crush it out of the park I’m not going to change anything. Home runs are part of my game. C’mon!

I’ll stop short of saying that the Cincinnati Reds have made a mistake by keeping Stephenson around as long as they have because the organization did use a first round selection on him, but he’s yet to live up to the hype and this is his last chance.

To be honest, I would hate to see Wandy Peralta, or Sal Romano, or Cody Reed be sent down to Louisville at the beginning of the season just because Robert Stephenson is out of options. I would even argue that Brandon Finnegan, as poorly as he’s performed last season and this spring, deserves an opportunity before Stephenson.

Matt Wisler, who’s out of options as well, has good reason to make the team over those players I mentioned previously. Wisler has performed well this spring and has 16 strikeouts as opposed to just 1 walk.

I hope that new Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson is able to help Stephenson in some way because the talent is obviously there. But time is running out. There’s less than a week until the season begins and Stephenson, because of shoulder inflammation, has missed all but one inning of work during Spring Training.

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Robert Stephenson has had more chances than I care to count, but this one appears to be his last. For his sake, I hope he’s able to put it all together and finally live up to expectations that the organization had when they drafted him over seven years ago.