Robert Stephenson

Born: February 24, 1993
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 205
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 1st Round, 27th Overall, 2011 (Reds)
How Acquired: Waiver Claim (from Rockies)
High School: Alhambra HS (Martinez, CA)
Agent: Apex Baseball

Stephenson has always had outstanding stuff, but has struggled to command it.  Drafted out of high school, he threw in the low- to mid-90s early in his pro career and has reached 100 mph.  He also had an outstanding curve and average change.  More recently, since moving to the bullpen, Stephenson’s velocity has averaged 96-97.  He’s exchanged the curve for a slider and seldom throws the change.  Despite the velocity, his fastball has generally been hit hard.  According to Statcast, opponents slugged .534 against it in 2021 and .641 in 2022 before the Pirates acquired him off waivers in late August.  Stephenson has usually, but not always, had good K rates.  Walks and home runs have often been a problem.

R+:  1-0-0, 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 30.2 IP, 2.3 BB/9, 10.9 K/9
A:  2-4-0, 4.19 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 34.1 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 9.2 K/9

Stephenson didn’t play in 2011 after signing, then made 15 starts between advanced rookie ball and low A.  He dominated at the lower level and held his own in full season ball.  Baseball America rated him the Reds’ second best prospect.

A:  5-3-0, 2.57 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 77.0 IP, 2.3 BB/9, 11.2 K/9
A+:  2-2-0, 3.05 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 20.2 IP, 0.9 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
AA:  0-2-0, 4.86 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 16.2 IP, 7.0 BB/9, 9.7 K/9

The Reds promoted Stephenson through three levels.  He had little trouble at the two class A levels, but hitters didn’t chase as much when he got to AA.  BA rated him the Reds’ top prospect.

AA:  7-10-0, 4.74 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 136.2 IP, 4.9 BB/9, 9.2 K/9

Stephenson spent the entire season in AA and didn’t have an easy time, as he struggled with walks and homers.  In fact, he led the league in both, while also leading it in strikeouts.  BA again rated him the best of the Reds’ prospects.

AA:  4-7-0, 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 78.1 IP, 4.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9
AAA:  4-4-0, 4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 55.2 IP, 4.4 BB/9, 8.2 K/9

Stephenson split the season between AA and AAA.  He cut way back on the gopher balls, but control continued to be an issue.  BA continued to rank him at the top of the Reds’ system.  The team added him to the roster after the season.

AAA:  8-9-0, 4.41 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 136.2 IP, 4.7 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
MLB:  2-3-0, 6.08 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 37.0 IP, 4.6 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

Stephenson started twice for the Reds in April, but otherwise spent the season in AAA until September.  In the second of those April starts, he gave up just one run over seven innings.  In AAA, he had just a decent season, with continued control problems and a reduced K rate.  He got shelled in half a dozen September starts.  BA dropped him to fourth in the Reds’ prospect rankings.

AAA:  1-2-0, 3.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 2.9 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
MLB:  5-6-1, 4.68 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 84.2 IP, 5.6 BB/9, 9.1 K/9

Stephenson’s season came in thirds:  He spent the first and last third in the majors, and the middle one in AAA.  In AAA, he pitched very well, including much better control, except for a gopher ball problem, as he allowed one every five innings.  In the majors, Cincinnati employed him in relief during his first stay and mostly as a starter during his second.  He was far more effective as a starter.

AAA:  11-6-0, 2.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 113.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 10.8 K/9
MLB:  0-2-0, 9.26 ERA, 2.49 WHIP, 11.2 IP, 9.3 BB/9, 8.5 K/9

The Reds used Stephenson’s last option to keep him in AAA most of the season.  He came to the majors for just four appearances in August, then missed September with right shoulder tendonitis.  He continued to have control problems in AAA but was very hard to hit.

AAA:  0-1-0, 4.50 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 2.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 13.5 K/9
MLB:  3-2-0, 3.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 64.2 IP, 3.3 BB/9, 11.3 K/9

The Reds moved Stephenson full-time to the bullpen and he was much more effective, with very good walk and K rates.  He had some trouble with gopher balls, allowing nine.

MLB:  0-0-0, 9.90 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 10.0 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 11.7 K/9

In the pandemic season, Stephenson missed most of August with back strain and made ten relief appearances.  His numbers weren’t bad except for one major problem:  In ten innings, he allowed eight home runs.  He allowed only three hits that didn’t leave the park.  After the season, the Reds traded Stephenson to Colorado.

AAA:  0-0-0, 18.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 1.0 IP, 9.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
MLB:  2-1-1, 3.13 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 46.0 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 10.2 K/9

Stephenson again spent the season in the bullpen, except he missed July with back tightness.  He had a good season, including better-than-usual control.  He managed well enough in Coors Field, posting an ERA of 4.13 there, compared to 2.05 on the road.

AAA (Colo):  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 1.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 0.0 K/9
MLB (Colo):  2-1-0, 6.04 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 44.2 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 7.5 K/9
MLB:  0-1-0, 3.38 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13.1 IP, 0.7 BB/9, 12.2 K/9

Stephenson struggled with the Rockies, getting hit harder and missing fewer bats than in the past.  Opponents put up a 291/335/528 line against him, with both left- and right-handed batters hitting him well.  Gopher balls were a problem, as he allowed one every five and a half innings.  The Rockies designated him for assignment in late August and the Pirates claimed him.  He fared a lot better in 13 games with the Pirates, as the walks dropped sharply and the K rate increased.

It’s pretty hard to be optimistic about Stephenson’s chances of succeeding with the Pirates.  GM Ben Cherington has employed waiver claims, or the equivalent, as the near-exclusive means of staffing the bullpen, with almost no success.  Stephenson did pitch much better than any of the other waiver-wire relievers, in a very small sample size, so it’s probably worth giving him a longer look.  Stephenson is arbitration-eligible.

2023: $1,750,000
Signing Bonus: $2,000,000
MiLB Debut: 2012
MLB Debut: 4/7/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2024
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/19/2015
Options Remaining: 0 (USED:  2016, 2017, 2018)
MLB Service Time: 5.059
June 6, 2011: Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1st round, 27th overall pick; signed on August 15.
November 19, 2015: Contract purchased by the Cincinnati Reds.
November 25, 2020: Traded by the Cincinnati Reds with Jameson Hannah to the Colorado Rockies for Jeff Hoffman and Case Williams.
August 25, 2022: Designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies.
August 27, 2022: Claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies by the Pittsburgh Pirates.