Forgotten Reds player has rebounded in a big way over the last week

Ty Steve is back, baby!
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson / Jeff Dean/GettyImages

Last season was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. After playing just 50 games during the 2022 season due to injury, the Reds had laid out a plan that would allow Stephenson to split time behind the plate and at first base. The goal was to keep Stephenson healthy.

Unfortunately, Stephenson never found his rhythm in 2023. His time behind the dish was underwhelming, and his time in the batters' box was even worse. Stephenson hit just .243/.317/.378 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI. Most fans and coaches will accept those types of numbers from a catcher so long as they provide good defense. But Stephenson didn't offer much at all in 2023.

However, Stephenson experienced quite the turnaround this past week. The 27-year-old hit two home runs and posted an .849 OPS while also playing above-average defense. Is Stephenson finally back?

Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson has rebounded in a big way over the last week

Upon his promotion to the big leagues back in 2020 and 2021, Stephenson looked like the real deal. During his first 140 games with the Reds, Stephenson hit .286/.367/.441 and a 109 OPS+. Reds fans thought that maybe, just maybe, that hit-first catcher every team is on the lookout for had finally landed in Cincinnati. But injuries in 2022 and a poor showing in 2023 brought more questions than answers.

And while Stephenson's batting average is still well below-average, he's been making loud contact all season. According to Baseball Savant, Stephenson is tops in the league in barrel rate (24.3%). The backstop also ranks among the 90th percentile or higher in both average exit velocity and hard hit rate. Stephenson is slugging .420 this season, but his expected slugging percentage is .502.

All of these metrics, while they have yet to translate into major success on the field, are clues that Stephenson may be on the brink of breaking out. Reds fans saw glimpses this past week during the road trip in Seattle and the three-game homestand against the Los Angeles Angels.

Stephenson has been a forgotten player since last season, when it looked as if Luke Maile could replace the former first-round pick as QB1 on the field. But Stephenson's bat is heating up, and his defense and framing have been much better as well. Stephenson's framing has resulted in a 48.5% strike rate this season, as opposed to 42% last season.

If Reds manager David Bell is able to get above-average production from his starting catcher this season, that will be nothing but a net-positive. While there's always been hope that Stephenson can be that guy, this past week's performance is the most tangible piece of proof that Reds fans have seen since 2021.

More Reds News from Blog Red Machine