Jason Stephens isn't the biggest name among Phillies prospects, but he's starting to make people realize that he's in the organization and might be worth a look before too long. The 25 year old right-hander signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent over the winter and started the season at Double-A Reading. Originally drafted by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 2003 Draft, Stephens spent seven seasons in the Yankees system before hitting the free agent ranks after the 2009 season.
Throughout his career, Stephens has always been the type of player who has put up decent numbers at first glance, but there were some minor flaws exposed if you looked a little deeper. For instance, last season at Trenton, Stephens walked 14 and struck out 21 in 45 1/3 innings of work. Generally, Stephens has put up decent numbers overall throughout his career and moved steadily through the Yankees system. Going into the off-season, Stephens was 27-23 with a career 3.20 ERA in the minors, pitching in 117 games (71 starts) throughout the organization.
Another downside for Stephens has been occasional injuries that have plagued him. Stephens started the 2007 season on the DL recovering from elbow surgery and pitched in only 11 games that season. He also spent time on the DL last season, but still pitched in 27 games between Tampa, Trenton and Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Now, just as he's starting to gain some recognition out of the Reading bullpen, Stephens is again on the DL, this time with right elbow inflammation.
To start this season, Stephens has thrown 13 1/3 innings of shutout ball for Reading. So far, Stephens has done all of his work out of the Reading bullpen. While his shutout inning streak is good, it's not quite near his personal best. As a member of the Charleston River Dogs, Stephens put together 21 shutout innings over 11 games, two of which were starts.
"I don't really think about streaks," said Stephens. "Every time out, I'm obviously trying to keep guys off base and certainly keep runs off the board. If they just happen to string together, that's great."
Stephens has enough of an arsenal to pitch as a starter, throwing a good fastball which is complimented by a change-up that he throws with very similar arm speed as he does his fastball. The pitch that Stephens will generally rely on is his curve, which has always been a good out-pitch for him. The curve is of the 12-to-6 variety and like his change, Stephens disguises the pitch well. Stephens had been penciled in to get his first start of the season during Reading's current road trip, but his latest injury will derail that opportunity.
"The curve has always worked for me. I just started throwing it in high school and it just came naturally," said Stephens. "As my mechanics got a little better, it added velocity to my fastball and just gave me more movement on all of my pitches."
Reading's bullpen can certainly use a go-to guy like Stephens. If you factor out Stephens' numbers, the R-Phils relievers are 4-3 with a 6.44 ERA on the season. Even if you figure in Stephens, the numbers aren't encouraging, with the ERA dropping to 5.12 through Reading's first 23 games.
Stephens could turn out to be one of those surprise prospects, who starts to surprise people with his ability. He's sort of strolled his way through the minors, but with the Phillies needing relief pitching, Stephens could get his chance to move up in the system before too long. For now, while Stephens isn't worried about scoreless streaks, the Reading Phillies are benefiting from his success.
Jason Stephens' career stats