Robert Stephenson Scouting Report (2014)
Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Robert Stephenson stands out in a league full of 23 and 24 year old pitching prospects. For the Reds’ Double-A affiliate Pensacola, the 21-year-old has had an up and down debut. Despite difficulties with command and control contributing to a higher walk rate (4.7 BB:9), Stephenson’s prospect status hasn’t faltered. Loud pitching tools and a physique still under construction places the right-hander among the highest ceiling prospects in the Southern League. What is a realistic appraisal of Stephenson’s skill set and will he be a front of the rotation option?
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, the 2011 1st-round-pick is tall and lean with room to add additional muscle. With defined muscular development from his calves to his shoulder blades, Stephenson has the prototypical athletic pitcher’s body. His frame should evolve to weather the rigors of starting in the majors. However, concern with the amount of effort in his delivery presents a red flag.
From start to finish, the top-100 prospect leverages his physical tools better than most Double-A pitchers. Stephenson’s base generates significant power, driving all momentum towards home plate. Top flight velocity is aided by plus arm speed, though it comes with a price. The violent torque of the elbow after releasing the pitch causes stress. Having a tendency to overthrow the baseball makes matters worse. Dialing down on the amps should lessen the torque at the end of delivery without compromising velocity. However, it will still bare watching.
Robert Stephenson showcased three pitches during his June 27th outing against Chattanooga. His best pitch was a two-seam fastball. Touching 96 early, Stephenson sat 92-94 MPH throughout the outing. He found success keeping the ball in the lower half of the zone where his fastball generated late, arm-side run and sink. His fastball down in the zone is explosive, but hitters with advanced approaches will lay off the pitch and wait for something elevated. Forced to throw strikes, Stephenson is a different pitcher up in the zone. The ball flattened out and hitters took advantage, resulting in hard contact. Command keeps the pitch from projecting as a plus offering.
His fastball would play even higher in a bullpen role. Pitching in relief during the Southern League All-Star game a week earlier, the young hurler hit triple digits on scouts’ guns during his one inning of work. Projecting 94-96 MPH heat as a starter isn’t far fetched, playing up his projection.
His most projectable secondary pitch is an 11-to-5 curveball. Sitting 78-82 MPH, the pitch is a true swing-and-miss offering. The sharp, two-plane bender elicited several swings and misses due to late, fall-off-the-table like break. It overwhelms hitters. Command issues forces the current grade to play lower, tempering overall expectations. However, a breaking ball with this profile projects plus if it continues to develop.
At 86-88 MPH, Stephenson’s change-up is poor. Likely a below average pitch at projection, he’s still searching for feel. After releasing the pitch, his arm doesn’t follow through fully, leaving the pitch flat and up in the zone. Thrown hard out of the hand, the pitch needs work to play in the big leagues. Like his other offerings, lack of command hurts the projection.
After excelling with Dayton and Bakersfield in 2013, Reds fans expected Robert Stephenson’s stint in the Southern League to be a dry run for Cincinnati. Like many pitchers, Double-A has proven to be a challenge. While he has the stuff to dominate the opposition, the young hurler presently lacks the command to push him further up the ladder. He must refine his change-up to complete his arsenal.
Alongside Pensacola teammate Michael Lorenzen (profiled last week), the Reds are counting on Stephenson to develop into a frontline starter. At 21, the right-hander has time and athleticism on his side, but it will take a little longer than anticipated.
Tool Present Future Projected Role Number 3 Starter On First Division Team Fastball 55 70 Curveball 50 60 Changeup 35 45 Control 40 50 Command 30 40
Owning Robert Stephenson
A pitcher ranked as a top 30 prospect is a sought after commodity in fantasy baseball. On a 40-man roster, owning the right-hander for $2 to $3 is a smart gamble since top-of-the-rotation pitching is at a premium. Stephenson will not fill an immediate need and can be packaged by a contender for MLB talent. Trade the highly ranked prospect and pick up teammate Michael Lorenzen. It’s the best way to leverage Robert Stephenson’s talents before his stock takes a hit this winter.
9 Jul 2014 / Chris Blessing / 3
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