Reds: Tyler Stephenson’s rookie season proved he’s the future catcher

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) screams as Jonathan India (6) crosses the plate on his game-winning single.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) screams as Jonathan India (6) crosses the plate on his game-winning single. /

While the Cincinnati Reds must decide whether or not to pick up Tucker Barnhart’s $7.5M team-option, the emergence of Tyler Stephenson during his rookie season makes the decision a little easier. Let’s put a grade on Stephenson’s 2021 campaign.

Stephenson saw a few games at the big league level in the pandemic- shortened 2020 season, but for all intents and purposes, 2021 was the 24-year-old’s first real opportunity to prove that he was a major league catcher.

Stephenson has long-since been dogged for being too big to suit up behind the dish. Any concern that those in the organization, or others on the outside, may have had about Stephenson’s ability to field the catcher position were erased with his brilliant performance as the team’s backstop.

Tyler Stephenson proved that he’s ready to be the Reds’ everyday catcher.

Tyler Stephenson appeared in 132 games for the Cincinnati Reds in his rookie season. Stephenson started 17 games at first base in addition to the 65 starts he earned behind the plate. While pitch framing (-1.0 FRM) is an area that the team’s catcher of the future may need to work on over the offseason, Stephenson didn’t commit a single error while catching a recorded 3 defensive runs saved.

But Stephenson’s presence in the batters’ box was even more impressive than his defensive prowess. Stephenson hit .286/.366/.431 with 10 home runs and 110 wRC+. Stephenson’s 1.9 WAR, per Baseball Reference, ranked 10th on the team in his role as a part-time player and thoroughly bested Tucker Barnhart’s 0.2 WAR.

Tyler Stephenson was, at times, the Reds’ clean-up hitter, logging 25 starts hitting No. 4 in Cincinnati’s batting order. With the seemingly likely departure of Nick Castellanos this winter, odds are good that David Bell will rely even more heavily on Stephenson heading into next season.

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Stephenson’s 2021 season receives an A- from me, and he could’ve scored even higher had he been given more opportunities. Stephenson was 9-for-40 in pinch hit situations last season, recording three of his 10 long balls coming off the bench to hit. Stephenson has already proved to be clutch and should be the team’s everyday catcher in 2022.