The Cincinnati Reds' top prospect has the potential to be the ace of the staff in the future, but when will Robert Stephenson get his first taste of the big leagues?
The Reds selected Stephenson with the 27th pick of the 2011 first-year player draft out of Alhambra High School in Martinez, California.
According to BaseballAmerica.com, the 21-year-old pitcher entered 2014 as the 19th-best prospect in all of baseball. He is also the seventh-best amongst pitchers.
Stephenson possess an electric mid- to upper 90s fastball and complements it with an above-average curveball. His changeup is not at the same level of his other two pitches, but it will only get better as his game progresses.
In tight situations, he is able to add velocity to his fastball as he needs it.
In an interview with Sam Dykstra of MilB.com, Stephenson talked about the velocity, saying, "Sometimes, it happens in crucial situations, too. Whenever adrenaline kicks in, that's when I usually add a little extra velocity. It's just something that happens."
Minors 2013 and 2014
The pitching prospect enjoyed success across three different levels in 2013. He had a combined ERA of 2.99 with a WHIP of 1.11.
His walk rate was particularly impressive for a young pitcher at 2.8 BB/9. However, this rate is not because he pitches to contact. He still managed a 10.7 K/9.
On the other hand, 2014 has not gone so smoothly. This is in large part due to his increased walk rate. It is up to 4.9 BB/9. He will need to work on his control before advancing to the majors.
Stephenson's ERA stands at 3.99 with a WHIP of 1.31. However, his stuff is too good to be putting up these numbers in Double-A.
As the season progresses in Double-A, look for him to get more comfortable and find the command of his pitches that made him successful in 2013.
Below is a slow-motion video of Stephenson's windup.
Stephenson got his first challenge of facing big league batters during spring training. Below is a video of him warming up in spring training this year.
He pitched three innings this spring and allowed two runs on seven hits. While his stats were not the greatest, it was a valuable learning experience for him.
In an interview with MilB.com's Sam Dykstra, Stephenson said this about the about the experience,
It's been awesome. The atmosphere has been pretty fun and all the guys here have been great to be around. I'm trying to be a little laid-back for the most part. If guys come to talk to me, I'm always willing to listen. But I'm trying to keep quiet to myself and take in as much as I can.
Not a bad strategy for the young prospect. All of the Reds' starters have enjoyed success in the majors and could offer great advice.
There is no rush to get Stephenson up to the big leagues this season. Cincinnati currently possesses plenty of depth at the starting pitcher position.
With the return of Mat Latos, the Reds already have six very capable big league starters. Stephenson is also not on the 40-man roster this year.
Expect him to continue working on his game in the minors this year. He may get a September call-up, but it is more likely the Reds will wait until next season to give him a shot.
There will likely be an opening in the rotation. Latos, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon are all arbitration eligible and could become free agents. The Reds probably won't keep all four of them—leaving an opening in the rotation. Stephenson won't automatically be given the spot, but there is a good chance he will be in the starting rotation in 2015.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com