SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker knows first-hand what the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award is all about and how much it means to players in the Arizona Fall League.
The Arizona-native it won it last year as member of the Surprise Saguaros. On Saturday, he welcomed Reds catcher prospect Tyler Stephenson, the 2019 winner of the prestigious award, to the club during a pregame ceremony before the Arizona Fall League Championship Game at Salt River Fields.
“The Arizona Fall League did so much for me, so to be here to pass on the award to Tyler means a lot,” said Tucker, who went to Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. “It was an honor to be asked back and if I can do anything to help out the people here in the Fall League, I will. It’s really cool to be here and to pass it on to the next year, the next generation.”
The Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award was created in 2004 to honor the memory of former Arizona Fall League player Dernell Stenson, who was killed in 2003 in Arizona during the AFL season. Stenson, who played for the Grand Canyon Rafters in 1998, was playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions at the time of his death. Stenson, who was drafted by the Red Sox in 1996, played in 37 games with the Reds during the 2003 season.
The sportsmanship award is presented annually to the Arizona Fall League player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work, and leadership. The manager and coaching staff from each of the six AFL teams nominate one player for the award. This year, Stephenson, the Reds’ No. 7 prospect, represented all of those qualities and more.
“Makeup is such an important part of the game, and sometimes people focus only on what happens between the lines,” said Bill Bavasi, MLB’s senior director of baseball development. “But the way Stephenson performed this year, he showed that he not only has it in between the lines, but also in the clubhouse and off the field. People that know him really feel strongly about him and that’s a testament to his character.”
Stephenson slashed .347/.418/.490 in 13 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs. Seven of his 17 hits were doubles. He also drove in six runs. Off the field, Stephenson participated in both the Play Ball event at the Fall Stars Game and the Fall League Day of Service at St. Vincent de Paul.
“It was a great opportunity to give back to the community, so everyone at a young age can fall in love with baseball,” Stephenson said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or how much money you have, you can go out and play this game. Hopefully, some of those kids can be in our shoes in a couple of years.”
Scottsdale infielder Andres Gimenez (NYM), Salt River Outfielder Luke Raley (MIN), Mesa infielder Nick Allen (OAK), Surprise outfielder Bubba Thompson (TEX), and Peoria catcher Colton Shaver (HOU) were also candidates to win the award.
“Having Cole here, a person I believe is the poster boy for the Arizona Fall League because he is what you want out of the league, is incredible,” Bavasi said. “Now, we have another guy like that in Stephenson. I’ve seen guys with makeup like this play in the big leagues for a long time because they just ‘get it.’”
Below is the complete list of Stenson award winners:
2019 -- Tyler Stephenson (Reds), C, Glendale Desert Dogs
2018 -- Cole Tucker (Pirates), SS, Surprise Saguaros
2017 -- Eric Filia (Mariners), OF, Peoria Javelinas
2016 -- Austin Nola (Marlins), C, Mesa Solar Sox
2015 -- Yadiel Rivera (Brewers), SS, Surprise Saguaros
2014 -- Patrick Kivlehan (Mariners), 3B, Surprise Saguaros
2013 -- Garin Cecchini (Red Sox), 3B, Surprise Saguaros
2012 -- Cole Kimball (Nationals), RHP, Salt River Rafters
2011 -- Kevin Mattison (Marlins), OF, Surprise Saguaros
2010 -- Steve Lombardozzi (Nationals), IF, Scottsdale Scorpions
2009 -- Russ Mitchell (Dodgers), 1B, Peoria Javelinas
2008 -- Jason Donald (Phillies), IF, Mesa Solar Sox
2007 -- Sam Fuld (Cubs), OF, Mesa Solar Sox
2006 -- Kevin Frandsen (Giants), IF, Scottsdale Scorpions
2005 -- Andre Ethier (Athletics), OF, Phoenix Desert Dogs
2004 -- Mark Teahen (Royals), 3B, Phoenix Desert Dogs