Prospect Breakout or Bust: Will Robert Stephenson Finally Emerge In 2017?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

There were already significant questions hovering over the Reds’ starting rotation, and the latest setback for Homer Bailey has sent things further back.  He seems destined to open the year on the DL and considering that he’ll be at least two years removed from a Major League appearance when he finally does return, expecting much would be a mistake.  That means there’s one spot already open, with another potentially being filled by Tim Adleman.

There’s the potential that two of the team’s top prospects open the year as a part of the starting rotation.  While there are a few options (like Amir Garrett and the newly acquired Luis Castillo), most eyes will fall to Robert Stephenson.  Long hyped as a high-upside prospect, it feels like the time is now for him to step up or face a change in role (could he produce better results as a reliever/closer). Can he turn the corner?  Let’s take a look:


Robert Stephenson
Grade – B
Age as of April 1, 2017 – 24

Stephenson has already made his MLB debut, with his control being the biggest concern.  Just look at his walk rates, at each level he’s pitched, over the past two years:

  • Double-A (78.1 IP, 2015) – 4.94
  • Triple-A (55.2 IP, 2015) – 4.37
  • Triple-A (136.2 IP, 2016) – 4.68
  • Majors (37.0 IP, 2016) – 4.62

He’s consistently struggled in that regard, even at the lower levels, so expecting a significant turn around overnight is difficult.  If that were the only issue we might be able to overlook it and still point towards the upside.  However he also posted unimpressive strikeout rates last season (7.90 K/9 at Triple-A, 7.54 in the minors) and has continued to fail generating groundballs (0.87 GO/AO at Triple-A, 0.93 over his minor league career).

There simply was no “skill” we could point to as a carrying tool.  The arsenal does still appear promising, as described by Prospect 361’s Rich Wilson:

“When he was in Low-A, he could reach back and hit triple-digits.  Now, he’s more controlled and sitting 91 to 94 MPH and topping out at 96 when he needs something extra.  It’s still a plus fastball with good life but he does pitch up in the zone.  His outpitch is a 78 to 80 MPH curveball with good shape, but as his control numbers show, he doesn’t always throw it over the plate.  His change-up continues to improve and it projects to be an above-average future offering.”

That sounds good, on paper, but he’s never going to be a groundball pitcher and if he doesn’t take a significant step forward in his control the results will never be there.  There’s a chance he ultimately lands in the bullpen, as several Reds’ prospects before him (like Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen) though time will tell.  At this point expecting much would be a mistake.

though time will tell.  At this point expecting much would be a mistake.


Quick Summary:
Pros – “Stuff” Still there to be a top of the rotation starter

Cons – Control continues to lack development; Lack of groundballs will yield home run concerns; Drop in strikeout numbers at upper levels

Sources – Fangraphs,, Prospect 361

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Grading System:
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On

Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
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Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
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