Stephenson Getting on Track

The top-rated pitching prospect still in the Reds lower development levels is 2011 first-rounder Robert Stephenson. The 20 year-old is in his first full professional season and has now made two consecutive starts without allowing an earned run or a walk while striking out sixteen in twelve innings.

Dayton took a three-run lead after six innings, but ran into trouble in the seventh and eighth en route to a 5-4 loss to visiting Ft. Wayne. The Dragons scored in the first from a two-out rally that culminated with a two-RBI single by Seth Mejias-Brean. He plated another one in the sixth with a sac fly before Joe Hudson singled home his team's final run. Jeff Gelalich got both rallies started with walks and drew three free passes on the night, scoring twice. Jesse Winker also scored twice from a walk and single. Joe Hudson singled twice.

On the mound starter Robert Stephenson was coming off his best outing of the season and he remained in top form, allowing only one unearned run on two hits without a walk in six innings while striking out seven. Wandy Peralta entered in the seventh and was charged for four runs (three earned) before leaving in the eighth, costing him a blown save and the loss. Alejandro Chacin finished by retiring all six batters he faced including a couple of strikeouts.

Stephenson is now 2-3 on the season and last night brought his ERA down close to four. The 2011 first-rounder hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two outings over which he threw twelve innings with only five hits. He's shown excellent command over that time, punching out sixteen strikeouts without a walk.

He is a consensus top-four prospect in the Reds system and has even been at the top of the list for some analysts. The right-hander spent all of 2011 in extended spring training after the draft and has only made 23 professional appearances. He didn't debut until the short season last year and did well at Billings, posting a 2.05 ERA in seven games before a promotion to Dayton. Even though this is his second season with the Dragons the twenty year-old is one of the youngest pitchers on their roster, along with fellow 2011 draftee Sal Romano and a couple of pitchers out of the foreign rookie leagues. More outings like his last two will make Stephenson the youngest pitcher at Bakersfield.

The Reds selected him out of high school after he named the Gatorade California High School player of the year. They must have felt very fortunate to see him remaining with their late pick and he likely would not have been available had that draft not had unusual pitching depth. He was the seventeenth pitcher selected when the Reds used the 27th overall pick. He comes with a mid-90's fastball that he's run up as high as 98. Development of his secondary pitches will determine how fast he moves up the Cincinnati system.

Stephenson throws from an athletic 6'2"/190# frame and there's potential upside to his heater as his body fills out. He has highly polished skills for his age and should remain high on the Reds' and MLB's top prospect list while he works toward a big league debut which is probably at least a couple years away. Depth in the Cincinnati pitching staff gives them the luxury of allowing young prospects more time to develop. The Reds have been cautious with Stephenson earlier, but he should now be ready to consistently throw 6-7 innings per minor league outing.

The 2011 draft could turn out to be pitching-rich for Cincinnati. Third-rounder Tony Cingrani is already making a case to remain in the Reds rotation when Johnny Cueto returns from injury. 22nd-rounder Romano is in his second professional season after the Reds reached into their pocket deep enough to change his career plans from attending college and he's got an sub-three ernie so far this season. The Reds are also probably eager to see how well 21st-rounder Amir Garrett develops if/when the St. John's hoopster gets to point where he dedicates himself exclusively to baseball.

A team can't have too much good pitching and everyone must try and stock their pipeline with multiple prospects. Not content with the arms gained in 2011, the Reds came back the next season and invested their top choice in another high-school pitcher, Nick Travieso. They also added a couple of other potentially big-time arms with Dan Langfield and Jeremy Kivel. The Reds are getting pitchers with early picks and adding more in the late rounds. The pieces are in place to sustain the success on the mound they have been enjoying recently as these prospects advance up the system.

Other Organizational News:

The Reds were idle Monday and will resume their season at Miami on Tuesday.

Louisville allowed three in the eighth in a 5-4 home loss to Buffalo. Billy Hamilton used his speed to help plate their first run when he singled, stole second and advanced on a throwing error before scoring on a groundout. Neftali Soto had four hits in the game including one that drove Hamilton home in the sixth and another one that plated him again in the seventh. Hamilton finished with three hits and two stolen bases. Henry Rodriguez had a couple of hits, a walk, and an RBI and is now 8-14 over his last three games. Mike Hessman reached safely twice with walks. On the mound Greg Reynolds had another quality start, allowing two runs in seven innings with six strikeouts for no decision. Jose Diaz allowed his first earned runs on the season and was charged with a blown save and the loss.

Pensacola opened with three in the first and en route to a 5-1 home win over Chattanooga. Travis Mattair got the party started with a run-scoring hit before Tucker Barnhart drove home two more with a two-run single. Bryson Smith and David Vidal also added RBI singles later in the game. Smith had two hits and scored a run. Steve Selsky replaced Chris Heisey in the first inning of his rehab start, drew four walks, and scored once. Brodie Greene and David Vidal both finished the game with a hit, walk, and run scored. Manny Parra also made a rehab start and threw a scoreless first inning. Ryan Dennick relieved him with a quality "non-start" to get the win with six shutout innings allowing only two hits without a walk.

Bakersfield took a five-run lead after three innings and held on for a 5-2 win at Sam Lynn Field. The Blaze came out firing in the first with an RBI single by Kyle Waldrop and two-run homer by Juan Silverio. Yovan Gonzalez drove home a run with a single the next inning and Waldrop struck again with a home run to lead off the third. Waldrop had two hits and a walk on the evening while Juan Duran was perfect at the plate, going 2-2 with two walks. Gonzalez had a couple of singles and Marquez Smith reached with a hit and a walk. James Allen got the win by allowing only two runs in six-plus innings, yielding five hits and a walk while striking out five. Pat Doyle and El'Hajj Muhammad combined for two-plus innings of scoreless relief with Muhammad getting the save.

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