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Stephenson's debut 'can happen at any time'

@m_sheldon
July 16, 2020

CINCINNATI -- In the 3 1/2 months between the abrupt end of Spring Training and the resumption of workouts, Reds catchers continued to work over Zoom with coach J.R. House. The club made sure that top catching prospect Tyler Stephenson was included in those sessions. The reason was simple. Ranked

CINCINNATI -- In the 3 1/2 months between the abrupt end of Spring Training and the resumption of workouts, Reds catchers continued to work over Zoom with coach J.R. House. The club made sure that top catching prospect Tyler Stephenson was included in those sessions.

The reason was simple. Ranked as the organization's No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Stephenson has the chance to be in the Major Leagues at any point during this 60-game season.

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“The catchers and J.R. did a good job of having weekly meetings the last three to four months when we were out,” Reds manager David Bell said Thursday. “We’re trying to include [Stephenson] in as much as we can -- for more than anything the educational part of that position. I haven’t been around football a lot, but maybe it’s kind of likening it to a quarterback. There’s so much more than the physical part of developing. It’s really understanding kind of the playbook of what we’re asking guys to do.”

Stephenson, who was added to the 40-man roster in November, would likely have spent this season at Triple-A Louisville under normal circumstances. Instead, the 23-year-old is part of Cincinnati’s 58-man player pool and has been working out mostly at the alternate training site at Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio.

But on select occasions, including Thursday, Stephenson has been at Great American Ball Park for workouts and scrimmages.

“Every day, every experience he has is just one more step towards hopefully becoming an everyday catcher here for us -- at some point,” Bell said.

But for that to come to fruition in 2020, something would have to shift with the backlog of primary catchers in Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali ahead of Stephenson on the depth chart.

“It's going to be a very unique season, to say the least, as everyone kind of expects,” Stephenson said. “But obviously, I'll just continue to work hard and wait for that call, hopefully.”

The 11th overall pick out of high school in the 2015 Draft, Stephenson batted .285/.372/.410 with six homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games last season for Double-A Chattanooga. In 13 more games in the Arizona Fall League, he batted .347/.418/.490 with seven doubles.

On Monday against Amir Garrett, Stephenson hit a two-run homer to right-center field. More valuable than that, however, has been getting to work with the other catchers, big league pitching staff and coaches.

“Just to learn from them … especially pitcher-wise, getting to know them as much as possible,” Stephenson said. “It's pretty similar to what it is during Spring Training -- pitch selection, what they like, obviously getting to know them on a pitching level, getting to know their mindset going into games.”

Bell has enjoyed getting to know Stephenson better this year and has a good feeling about his ability to man one of the most important positions on the field at a young age. The club gives its catchers a lot of responsibility in game planning and handling the pitching staff.

“Tyler, he’s in a great position being a catcher and being a top prospect in our organization. We’re seeing why -- he can really hit,” Bell said. “He’s improving defensively, and he’s getting closer and closer to being able to contribute at this level. But it’s a very demanding position. He hasn’t played above Double-A, but he’s coming on fast and we believe in him.

“We’re going to develop him and there’s definitely no limitations on when he can arrive. It can happen at any time, especially given what we’re dealing with this year. We’re supporting him every way we can, but he’s doing everything he can also to get here quick.”

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.