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Injuries in past, future beckons T. Stephenson

After lost 2 seasons in Minors, Reds C prospect ready to resume track toward Majors
MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- Just by virtue of his being the 11th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, prospect Tyler Stephenson and the Reds had easily envisioned the catcher's path toward reaching the Major Leagues.

They still do, despite some obstacles. Injuries have limited the 21-year-old in each of the past two years at Class A Dayton, where he played only 39 games in 2016 and 80 games last season.

CINCINNATI -- Just by virtue of his being the 11th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, prospect Tyler Stephenson and the Reds had easily envisioned the catcher's path toward reaching the Major Leagues.

They still do, despite some obstacles. Injuries have limited the 21-year-old in each of the past two years at Class A Dayton, where he played only 39 games in 2016 and 80 games last season.

"I know stuff happens. I know it's just part of it," said Stephenson, who is ranked as the Reds' No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. "I'd rather get hurt now than later on down the road. Hopefully it's all out of the way and I'm good to go."

Watch: MiLB Video

During his first full season, in 2016, Stephenson was first felled by a concussion and then dealt with a sore left wrist that limited his Class A production to .216 with three home runs. He eventually required surgery.

The 2017 season was looking good until mid-July, when Stephenson suffered a season-ending right thumb injury. He hurt ligaments in the thumb while sliding into third base. He batted .278/.374/.414 with six home runs and 50 RBIs, including a .340 average in the 15 games just before his season ended.

Originally expected to need surgery, Stephenson went for a second opinion that indicated he could heal with rehabilitation and not have an operation. Making that choice, he successfully recovered during the rest of the summer and was able to play in instructional league games after the season in Arizona.

"So I go to finish up the season for a month. No issues, no setbacks and I picked up to where I was at Dayton," Stephenson said. "I played really well. It was a fun offseason of hitting, throwing and working out with no issues at all.

Stephenson's video highlights

That enabled the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Stephenson to go home to Georgia and have a normal offseason of workouts. He is expected to begin the 2018 season at Class A Advanced Daytona.

"He's earned the promotion," Reds senior director of player development Jeff Graupe said. "You can compare what he was doing to [No. 3 prospect and outfielder Taylor] Trammell and [outfielder Jose] Siri [No. 22] at the same time. That's the level of season -- if not better -- he was having, especially considering the position he was playing."

The Reds have been pleased with Stephenson's development on both the offensive and defensive side.

"When he missed time with the wrist and concussion, he really took a step back with Corky [Miller, Minor League catching instructor] to learn the mental aspect of the position, which I think was a blessing in disguise," Graupe said. "I thought the way he handled the pitching staff, his game calling, I thought he was in total command behind the plate last season. It was a nice step forward for a 20-year-old."

Stephenson, who is not related to Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson, is looking ahead to Spring Training, where he will be in the Minor League camp with hopes of getting some chances in big league games.

"I believe in myself," Stephenson said. "I have what it takes to be whatever I want to be and what everybody thinks I'm going to be. I am going to take advantage of every opportunity."

Still young, time is on Stephenson's side to get his career back on track.

"I'm really high on where he is and where he's going," Graupe said. "I think he was having a tremendous season when he had kind of a fluke injury strike. This is a really talented young man who took a major step forward last year."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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