Stephenson Debuts at High-A

Billy Hamilton's incredible feats on the base paths non-withstanding, there are still some that consider right-hander Robert Stephenson the top prospect in the Cincinnati organization. The 2011 first round selection has mastered low-A and debuted for Bakersfield in the California League Friday.

Bakersfield fell into a six-run hole after allowing four in the seventh inning in their 7-3 loss to visiting Visalia. The game marked the high-A debut for Reds 2011 top draft choice Robert Stephenson. The right-hander allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits in six innings pitched while striking out five without a walk for the loss. Brooks Pinckard finished the game with two scoreless frames of relief.

The Blaze fell behind after allowing single runs in three consecutive innings before they scratched the scoreboard in the sixth from an RBI-double from Juan Duran. Juan Perez came back the next inning with a two-run homer but that was not enough for the comeback. Ryan Wright had four hits in the contest and he's now 7-14 over his last three games. Danny Vicioso had two hits and scored twice. Steve Selsky reached from a single plus a walk.

There are some that consider Stephenson the top prospect in the Cincinnati system and it's no surprise to see him get the promotion after showing that he'd mastered the low-A level. Since arriving at Dayton late last season he's kept a sub-three ERA in 22 starts against Midwest League hitters while maintaining and impressive K/BB ratio of 131/35 over 111 innings pitched. Now at the age of twenty he is currently the youngest player on the Bakersfield roster.

No one wants to start off with a loss, but a pitcher's wins often don't represent their effectiveness because so many things influence the decisions that are out of his control. This is especially true in the minor leagues when pitch counts often limit innings opening the door for extra opportunity for the win to be decided after the starter has left the game. Whether he got the win or not, after one start it appears that Stephenson is ready for the next challenge in his ascent up the organization, despite being younger than his competition.

Cincinnati is blessed with good organizational depth in their rotation and there is no need to fast-track any young pitching prospect. However, Stephenson is one that is projected to be a top-rotation pitcher at the highest level and there's really no reason to delay his advancement. It's a bit difficult to predict when he'll be MLB-ready and his performance going forward will have a big influence on that decision.

The Reds likely don't like the idea of losing anyone in their current rotation, but Stephenson has been projected as a top-notch MLB pitcher since the day they invested their first draft pick on him and when he's ready a spot will have to come from somewhere. The first opening will go to Tony Cingrani, who has already acquitted himself well against MLB hitters while replacing Johnny Cueto during his stints on the DL this season. He's also made a statement that International League hitters are no challenge for him during his brief experience in AAA.

Right now the first possible opening could be Bronson Arroyo's. The savvy veteran is putting together another solid season with a mid-three ERA, but he's in the last year of a $10M+/year contract and it's not likely the Reds will want to continue tying up that much of their payroll on a pitcher who will turn 37 before next season. He is one of the players that helped convert the franchise into contender status and his desire to finish his career as a Red will have a lot of influence in the results of any negotiations. He's one of the most durable pitchers in history and is still effective so he'll probably have to settle for less money to remain a Red than he could get on the open market.

After that Homer Bailey's current contract has him free-agent eligible after next season. Johnny Cueto is signed through 2015 and there may be some doubts that the Reds can retain a pitcher of his status when he's free-agent eligible. Mat Latos and Mike Leak are both under team control through 2016 with some opportunities for arbitration before then.

It's a good problem to have and there are a lot of different scenarios that could play out. Cincinnati has shown a willingness to trade top prospects in order to get proven veterans in roles of need, but after investing a first round pick on a top-rotation pitcher and readying him for the MLB it doesn't figure they would want to watch him do his thing in someone else's uniform. The Reds have been cautious with Stephenson, he didn't debut professionally until the short season last year, and have limited his innings since. Perhaps they'll take the gloves off a bit as he prepares to challenge higher level hitters.

Other Organizational News:

The Reds came out of the all-star break and immediately gained a game on the Pirates with a 5-3 win over them at Great American Ball Park. Chris Heisey had a couple of hits plus a walk and gave his team an early leady with a solo homer in the first inning. He put another run across the plate with an infield single in the fifth that started scoring in a four-run rally that had loaded bases cleared by a Brandon Phillips double. Devin Mesoraco reached on a walk and a couple of hits including a double that started the big rally. Joey Votto reached with two walks and a hit while Todd Frazier coaxed one walk to go with a single. Mike Leake got the start and the win by pitching into the sixth and allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five. Five Reds relievers combined for three-plus scoreless innings with Aroldis Chapman tossing a shutout ninth for the save.

Louisville came back from a bad loss and won 2-1 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Billy Hamilton gave them an early lead by manufacturing a run in the first: single/stolen base/advance on groundout/score on sac fly. Emmanuel Burris had a couple of hits including one that led to the game-winner when he led off the fifth with a single before scoring on a sac fly. Chad Rogers was back to form and got the win by allowing only one run in five-plus innings, yielding four hits while striking out five without a walk. Pedro Villarreal entered in the seventh and did not allow a run while finishing the game for the save.

Pensacola came up short in a comeback attempt and lost 3-2 to visiting Huntsville. Seven Wahoos had one hit apiece with Yorman Rodriguez, Chris Berset, Ryan LaMarre, and Mike Costanzo each reaching safely twice from a hit and a walk. Carlos Contreras debuted at the AA level and took the loss by allowing three runs in four innings pitched. Chris Manno, Jamie Walczak, and Drew Hayes combined for five scoreless innings of relief.

Dayton made a successful comeback with three runs in the fifth and pulled away for an 8-5 win over visiting Beloit. Joe Hudson had a couple of hits and a walk including a solo home run in the fifth. Sammy Diaz matched that with two hits plus a walk with a two-run homer to add insurance in the sixth. Seth Mejias-Brean reached with two hits and two walks and Jesse Winker added two hits including a triple. Nick Travieso allowed four runs (two earned) on three hits over the first five innings for the win. Jesus Adames relieved him with two scoreless frames.

Billings fell behind when they allowed three runs in the third inning en route to a 3-2 home loss to Grand Junction. Jonathan Reynoso had three hits for the Mustangs including a couple of doubles. Jon Matthews reached safely with a hit and two walks. Luke Moran qualified for a quality start, but took the loss for allowing three runs on five hits in six innings. Layne Somsen and Abel De Los Santo combined for three scoreless frames of relief.

The AZL Reds poured on the offense late and cruised to a 6-0 win over the AZL Diamondbacks. Kevin Garcia stroked four hits to raise his average to .355. Junior Morillo got the win for tossing five scoreless innings to start the game and four relievers combined for four innings to complete the shutout.

The DSL Reds scored a run off an error in the bottom of the ninth in their 8-7 win over the DSL Diamondbacks. Previously they'd rallied for six in the second inning but failed to hold the lead. Four Reds finished with two hits each: Geraldo Valor, Raynar Guerrero, Diohanky Mejia, and Michael Beltre. Starter Pedro Damian was roughed up for six runs in his two innings pitched. Jose Munoz tossed a scoreless ninth and got the win to improve his record to 5-0/1.64 ERA.

The DSL Rojos fell to 11-30 on the season after a 7-1 loss to the DSL Pirates. The Rojos were limited to four hits with two players, Luis Gonzalez and Carlos Mateo, both reaching safely twice from a hit and a walk each. John DeLeon got the start and held the Pirates to one run on two hits/one walk over four frames. Carlos Encarnacion gave up an unearned run in two innings pitched that pinned the loss on him.

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