GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One of the byproducts of a rebuilding phase, of course, is that younger players are thrust into higher-profile roles -- not just on the field but off it.
Entering just their third full season in the big leagues, catcher Tyler Stephenson and second baseman Jonathan India are already among the more tenured Reds players in the clubhouse. That has made them de facto team leaders, something which they are both embracing despite it coming to them so quickly.
“It’s kind of crazy to think,” Stephenson said. “I enjoy it. It’s a role I want to try and fill this year. You never know if this is [Joey Votto’s] last year or not. There’s shoes to fill and a lot of guys I’m sure are going to step up this year in that role.”
Both Stephenson and India are 26 years old. They are among those needed to fill the void created by the exits of former leaders such as Kyle Farmer, Amir Garrett, Eugenio Suárez and Sonny Gray.
India and Stephenson wanted to do whatever possible to create a winning culture -- especially after a 100-loss season.
“It’s a little odd. I didn’t think I’d ever be a veteran in my third year,” India said. “I’m up for the challenge. I don’t even look at it as a challenge, honestly. I look at it as just competing, just being the guy -- playing hard for my team and letting that take over instead of trying to be a leader. … You just do it. You play with your heart. You play with passion and emotion, and it kind of just works out for itself. I think that’s the biggest thing for us.”
Multiple young players have made mention of feeling more at ease in the Major Leagues following their rookie seasons in 2022. Pitcher Hunter Greene noticed it when he walked into the spring clubhouse last week.
“Last year, it being my second big league camp but really my first time around the guys, I was a little more quiet, reading the room more and being more of a fly on the wall,” Greene said. “This year, I feel like I’m truly a part of the team. The relationships have grown since last year, and the chemistry is better.”
Stephenson believed that ease could only help Greene and fellow young starters Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft make progress in 2023.
“They’ve all gotten that first-year kind of stuff off their shoulders,” Stephenson said. “They know they belong. It’s going to be fun. Not saying they’re comfortable, but they know they belong here and … see that big next step moving forward.”
For the even younger players who have yet to break into the big leagues, India serves as a beacon of possibility.
In 2021, India started out in Minor League camp but played well enough to receive an invite to big league camp. From there, he earned a spot on the Opening Day roster and went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
“I put my body through the ringer to make the team,” India said. “Not even the season. Making the team was a struggle for me mentally. I played almost every game that spring because they didn’t think I was going to make the team. I proved a lot of people wrong. That’s a mentality you need daily, not just in Spring Training; daily, when it’s the games. I told guys like McLain to -- even in practice -- treat it just like the game because coaches look at that stuff. That was what I did.”