Stephenson enjoying healthy offseason after injury-ridden '22

December 4th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- After playing only 50 games in 2022 because of a variety of injuries, Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson isn't having a normal offseason in one sense. Now healthy, including his being fully healed from a right clavicle fracture, Stephenson has been doing more baseball activity than he usually does during a regular winter.

The only pause Stephenson took was for a 10-day trip with his wife to visit Amsterdam and Berlin.

"Before I left, I was hitting off the machine, challenging myself to make sure everything was good, and everything was fine. Throwing, hitting, catching -- it’s normal," Stephenson said.

The 62-100 Reds really missed Stephenson's bat last season. Although he batted .319 with an .854 OPS and six home runs, he missed 107 games. Ten of those games were because of a concussion sustained during a collision with the Padres' Luke Voit in April. A broken right thumb from a foul tip off the bat of the D-backs' Jordan Luplow in June cost him 27 more games.

Then on July 22 vs. the Cardinals, in the first inning of the Reds' first game after the All-Star break, a foul tip from Paul Goldschmidt broke Stephenson's collarbone. It required surgery to repair the injury, and he missed the final 70 games of the season.

“Twenty-six years and I’ve never broken anything, and then this year, I broke two things," Stephenson said. "I’ve never heard of a catcher breaking their collarbone on a foul ball. Even the thumb thing, if you want to break it down, yes it should have been protected, but if you really look at games, how many catchers have their hands exposed? I think J.T. [Realmuto] … took a foul ball off his wrist and he ended up staying in the game. I paid attention to it a lot more, and you’d be surprised at how many guys, their thumbs are actually exposed.”

The injuries prompted a lot of questions last season about whether Stephenson should move away from catching to play first base or be a regular designated hitter. During Redsfest this weekend, he was prepared for fans to pepper him with more of the same.

Stephenson's reply remains unchanged.

“I want to catch. I want to do it as long as possible," he said. "Unless something physically down the road doesn’t let me, then that’s something to talk about another day. But I’m catching.”

Stephenson spent time in Chicago at the headquarters of EvoShield, which is the company that provides his protective equipment. EvoShield is making him gear with more padding around his neck and improved elbow guards. He already changed masks last season after his concussion and used one that did better at withstanding contact from foul balls.

There have not been any drills yet that might test the clavicle.

"I’m just trusting [the doctor] that eight screws and a plate is pretty sturdy," Stephenson said. "I haven’t done any blocking. I guess that would be the real question, but I might wait until January. I’ll talk to [third-base coach] J.R. [House] and figure out a progression and what we can do, and not [go] in there and just start blocking baseballs right away.”

The last time there was a Redsfest, in 2019, Stephenson was still a Minor League prospect who would not debut until the middle of the shortened '20 season. Because of roster churn as the club rebuilds for the future, he is already one of Cincinnati's more tenured big league players.

"He's going to be the guy that is going to be the quiet leader," former Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer said this week. "He's the one that's going to be going behind the scenes, and he's going to be the one that's going to lead by example.

"[Jonathan India] is going to be the vocal leader in that locker room. Tyler's going to be the guy behind the plate, he's going to be the leader on the field just by doing what he does and playing the game."

Stephenson believed there would be multiple younger players -- including himself -- with the ability to step up and lead.

"It’s something l look forward to this year," Stephenson said. "I wouldn’t say I’m a huge, loud, vocal person. I think there are different ways of leading. Farmer kind of took that role last year, and he did a great job. Even with some of the young guys pitching, there is room for a bunch of people to step up in new roles and some shoes to fill.”