Given Reds' track record, Stephenson on right path

Given Reds' track record, Stephenson on right path

Given Reds' track record, Stephenson on right path
CINCINNATI -- After years of flubs and follies with their first-round Draft picks, the Reds have not missed for quite a while with their top selection.

Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso, Mike Leake and Yasmani Grandal were Cincinnati's first round picks from 2004-10. All are in the Major Leagues, with only Stubbs, Alonso and Grandal no longer with the organization.

The days of Ty Howington, Ryan Wagner and Chris Gruler have been put in the past. With the Reds' more recent track record of developing talent from within, it creates better odds that their 2011 first-rounder, pitcher Robert Stephenson, will eventually be a big leaguer.

"I just want to focus on improving myself overall for right now, but it's definitely something to look forward to and a positive, for sure," said Stephenson, the 27th overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

According to MLB.com evaluators, Stephenson is the No. 2 prospect in the Reds' organization and No. 63 overall. The 19-year-old right-hander from Martinez, Calif., who often reaches 99 mph with his fastball and occasionally touches triple digits, is coming off his first year in pro baseball.

In 15 starts combined between rookie level Billings and Class A Dayton, Stephenson was 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA. In 65 innings, he walked 23 and struck out 72.

Stephenson, who did not pitch for the Reds in 2011 because he signed later in the summer, felt that his arm made the adjustment from high school to professional baseball.

"At the beginning of the year, I was kind of wishing I could go further in games just because I was only going five innings," he said. "Since I was going every five days instead of every week like in high school, I got a little tired towards the end. I wasn't used to it. Next year should be different now that I've gotten a taste of it."

Stephenson started out with a 2-0 record and 3.00 ERA in his first four starts for Dayton. Over his final three starts, he was 0-3 with a 7.15 ERA.

The Reds were pleased with how Stephenson figured out how to handle pitching every fifth day and adjusted to life away from home.

"He found out what it takes to last as a professional pitcher over a full season, and he had a lot of success," Reds player development director Jeff Graupe said. "He's had some struggles there, but that's good. He's figuring out how to bounce back from struggle, which is the next step. If you get up here and struggle for the first time, it's harder to bounce back."

Stephenson is currently a three-pitch pitcher that uses a fastball, curveball and changeup. A fourth pitch, the split-fingered fastball, was put on hiatus by coaches.

"I started working on my changeup and developing that because I didn't throw it in high school a lot," Stephenson said. "That's what I'm focusing on the most. Hopefully, they give me my split back at some point. If not, I will keep working on my three pitches that I have right now."

This winter, Stephenson is working out near his home about four days a week and has found a workout partner in Elliott Waterman, a Minor League pitcher in the Nationals system. Stephenson is swimming to improve his conditioning and he began throwing a few weeks ago. Soon he will be throwing in bullpen sessions and preparing himself for another year in a five-man rotation.

As for this past year, Stephenson took it all as a positive experience.

"It was really fun. It was different than high school," Stephenson said. "The level of competition and crowds made it seem a lot closer to my dream."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.