It’s that time of the year, when the rosters expand and young players fans have only heard about get an opportunity to show what they can do at the big league level.
One man, Robert Stephenson, has actually gotten a couple of starts at the big league level…and he fared quite well. Based on his minuscule Major League sample size, Stephenson is a lock to join the roster next week.
However, what he has done over the past couple of month in Triple-A with Louisville may prevent that.
Stephenson has consistently had a hard time finding the plate, and walked an extremely high amount of hitters. Lately, even when his command has been there, Stephenson has gotten beaten around like a drum.
Next to nothing has gone right for the top prospect right hander, and it leads to the question as to whether he has earned the opportunity to join the Reds roster to end the season.
One aspect working in favor of Stephenson is that he is already on the 40-man roster, unlike Jesse Winker. No corresponding transactions would need to made to clear a spot for him.
However, another hurdle is that Stephenson would more than likely not be in a starting role, but rather coming out of the bullpen. The rotation is set, and even if Brandon Finnegan gets shut down, there are still other candidates vying for that fifth rotation spot to make an impression, including fellow top prospect Amir Garrett. Though Garrett has seen command issues of his own.
Stephenson jumped out of the gates quickly in the 2016 season, posting a 2.10 ERA in April with Louisville, but he still walked 11 hitters in 30 innings. Two of those starts were in Cincinnati.
However, he started to take a step backward in May and June. His walks went up slightly and more of them started crossing the plate. He also saw a jump in contact and hits allowed also, shooting his WHIP through the roof. In July, Stephenson walked 17 hitters in 28 innings, and it marked the third straight month that he walked at least 16. However, his strikeouts also spiked in July and it appeared that maybe he could be coming out of the funk.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. In his five August starts, Stephenson has posted a season-worst 6.23 ERA. The walks are down slightly, but he has allowed 33 hits in 26 innings.
After his start on August 20, Louisville manager Delino DeShields had some pretty harsh words for how Stephenson had been pitching. Five days later, he made his most recent start and was not too bad, allowing five hits and two runs over six innings of work. While he struck out seven, he still walked three hitters. It has the appearance that it may be too little to later for the top prospect.
When looking at a situation like this, it is not very often that an organization sees their Triple-A manager ripping a top prospect and saying that he should be “embarrassed,” and then call them up less than two weeks later.
Only time will tell on Stephenson. While it would be nice to see him get his feet wet, if DeShields’ comments have any merit for the right hander not listening on how to improve, it may be more valuable to prove a point and leave Stephenson on the outside looking in.