The development path for a high school catcher can often be an arduous one. There are many examples of former first-round picks who didn’t make it or have struggled to make a major contribution, like Brandon Snyder (2005) and Kyle Skipworth (2008).
Tyler Stephenson’s journey through the Reds' system since being the No. 11 overall selection in the 2015 Draft hasn’t been easy. He’s been sidelined by a concussion, a wrist issue and a thumb injury. That cost the Reds' No. 3 prospect valuable development time, playing in just 46 games in his first full season and in 80 in '17. A healthy '18 season allowed him to collect over 400 at-bats in a season for the first time and he took a definite step forward as a result.
That led to a strong season in Double-A on both sides of the ball in 2019, capped off with hitting .347 in the Arizona Fall League and a spot on the 40-man roster. With injuries seemingly behind him, it looked like Stephenson was preparing to be a prep backstop success story.
Just added to the Top 100 prospects list, Stephenson will get his first opportunity to contribute to the Reds this week. With Mike Moustakas landing on the injured list, the 23-year-old catcher received his first call up to the big leagues on Sunday. Here’s what he brings to the Reds' roster with his grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale in parentheses (20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average):
Hit (50): Stephenson has steadily improved his overall approach from the right side of the plate. He entered pro ball with some definite length in his swing and he struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances in his first full season. He’s worked hard to shorten his swing and be more selective at the plate, leading to a much smaller strikeout rate to go along with a higher walk rate.
Power (50): As Stephenson has added strength while shortening his path to the ball, he’s shown the ability to make harder contact more consistently, with higher exit velocities coming as a result. He’s still learning to leverage the baseball and use his 6-foot-4 frame to greater advantage in terms of over-the-fence power, but it will come.
Run (40): As a big backstop, it’s not a huge part of his game, but he runs well for a man his size. His athleticism plays behind the plate as well.
Arm (60): Stephenson has always had plus arm strength and he’s worked to shorten his throwing mechanics in order to get rid of the ball more quickly. He’s had moderate success in helping to control the running game, with a career 25 percent caught-stealing rate in the Minors.
Field (55): Despite his size, Stephenson has always moved very well behind the plate, showing excellent agility and flexibility. He has excellent hands and works well with his pitching staff. He’s shown improvement in terms of his framing skills as well.