Potential Twins Bullpen Trade Target: Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds
Image courtesy of © Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsRobert Stephenson, RHP, 26-years-old
Cincinnati Reds (31-38, 5th in NL Central)
Four more years of team control via arbitration.
2019: 3.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 in 27 IP
2018: 9.26 ERA, 2.49 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 9.3 BB/9 in 11.2 IP in MLB (2.87 ERA in 20 Triple-A starts)
As we here at Twins Daily continue to profile every reliever under the sun, we reach a reliever for the Reds by the name of Robert Stephenson.
Now, I’ll answer what was most likely your first question; “what the hell is a Robert Stephenson”? Which is fair as he sounds more like a member of The Strokes or a young adult novel writer than a major league ballplayer but I digress.
Stephenson was a top pitching prospect for the Reds for a number of years but suffered the typical struggles of a pitcher adjusting to the major league game. He would walk too many guys and not go deep into ball games which is not really a great combination for a starting pitcher. Add onto this the fact that the Reds could not develop a pitcher if their lives depended on it and Stephenson’s struggles in short major league stints from 2016-18 are not hard to understand.
The Reds finally wised up and brought in Derek Johnson to be their new pitching coach for 2019 and Johnson took one look at Stephenson and decided to make him a reliever (or maybe someone else did. I’m not Johnson or Stephenson, just some random dude on the internet).
The results so far have been tremendous as the move to the bullpen added a tick to Stephenson’s fastball velocity (~93 MPH before, now ~94) and he dropped his curve and mostly dropped his change in favor of throwing his slider almost 60% of the time. This development has led to 2.59 FIP in 2019 so far along with the second-highest swinging strike rate in all of baseball among qualified relievers.
The downside is the Reds might not sell They find themselves last in the NL Central, but their run differential shows a better team than what their record indicates. And if they do sell, I don’t think the 26 year-old Stephenson would be at the top of the list of guys who would go.
Of course, anyone could be traded for the right price, but the Reds may direct teams to David Hernandez or Jared Hughes if they are looking for relief help. Another one of the knocks on Stephenson was that he had a hard time staying healthy and as I currently write this article, Stephenson is on a rehab assignment thanks to a cervical strain in his neck, so those injury concerns may still exist. Stephenson also lacks the kind of consistent performance that may be desired from a reliever. While his 2019 numbers are nice, he has not had a long history of success and there’s a chance that the league adjusts back to the changes he has made.
The upside is obvious, he has made tangible changes to his game for the better, has secretly become one of the more dominating relievers in baseball, and would obviously be a fresh breath of life to a bullpen that needs support. Not to mention that his small amount of MLB service time (free agent in 2024) means that he would not be a mercenary or a “hired gun” for a single-year playoff run but could instead be a contributor for many years down the road. The flip side is that he would cost more in the form of prospects but that’s an issue for the Twins and the Reds to hash out.
Now, here are a few clips of his slide-piece and just try not to tell yourself how much you want him:
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