Top 30 Reds Prospects: No. 4

After the Reds made their first postseason appearance in fifteen years in 2010 they were in an unfamiliar situation of having to wait until late in each round of the 2011 draft for a selection. Many felt they were lucky to find RHP Robert Stephenson available with the 27th overall pick. He enters the season at no. 51 in Scout's list of top 100 MLB prospects.

Of all the pitchers developing in the Cincinnati system Robert Stephenson may have the best arm of the best of the bunch. There are a couple others higher on this list because they are closer to MLB-ready. The Reds selected him in 2011 when pitching depth in the draft left the Gatorade California High School Player of the Year available with the 27th overall pick. After spending the remainder of that season in extended spring training he debuted at Billings last season and finished with eight starts at Dayton.

In his first professional game he allowed only three hits and a walk, and no earned runs in five innings while striking out eight. He mastered the hitter-friendly Pioneer League quickly, posting a 2.05 ERA and sub-one WHIP after seven starts, prompting a move to low-A. He ended 2012 with another eight starts in the Midwest League where he kept a low-four ernie.

Stephenson was bringing a low/mid-90's fastball while in high school and his physique (6'2"/190#) has some room to fill out which could add a few mph onto it. He mixes it with a sharp curve, decent change-up, and he' working on a slider. He's also able to keep his pitches down in the zone and last season finished with a 1.26 ground/air out ratio.

Even though he arrived very polished for his age, the top item on his agenda is the same as nearly every high-school pitcher: master command. In 2012 he had an impressive 72/23 K/BB over 65 innings, but both his walk and strikeout rates went the wrong way against hitters in the Midwest League, cutting that ratio in half after the promotion. Since he only turned twenty on Sunday there's no reason to fast-track him and he should return there for the start of the 2013 season.

After investing a first round selection and a $2 million signing bonus the Reds have been cautious working Stephenson. This season it will be time for them to let him go out and eat some innings in his first full professional season. He projects as a top-rotation MLB pitcher and should crack the high-A level by the end of the year.

Stephenson was the first high-school pitcher selected by the Reds in the first round since Homer Bailey in 2004. Bailey finally had a breakout year for the Reds in his sixth MLB season, but in fairness to him the Reds were desperate for pitching in 07 and rushed him to the big leagues too early. That's not a problem now and they can afford to let Stephenson and last year's first rounder, Nick Travieso remain on the farm until they are ready. A couple of other top Reds picks found themselves in a trade package after being blocked in their positions. That won't happen to their last two because room can always be found for good pitching.

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