In 2011 Cincinnati was coming off their first postseason appearance in fifteen years and they were in the unfamiliar position of having to wait until late in the first round before making their first draft pick. Success is a good reason to wait and if someone has to pick late it's not a bad year to pay that penalty when you can get Robert Stephenson with the 27th overall selection. The 6'3"/195# right-hander out of Alhambra (CA) High School was the seventeenth pitcher selected that year. The Reds kept him out of competition until the short season in 2012 and in the two years since he's quickly ascending up the organization.
Stephenson pitched at three levels last year and he's begun this season at AA Pensacola where he made his final four starts in 2012. At the age of 21 he's started out plenty good his first time outing this season when he picked up the win for tossing seven scoreless innings, allowing only one hit/one walk while striking out eleven. If there were any questions whether or not he'd see AAA this season it appears he's going to answer them quickly.
Along the way Stephenson has picked up a few ticks on his fastball and has even touched triple digits. He entered the professional ranks with a reputation for being highly polished for a high school pitcher and hasn't disappointed with a K/BB ratio of 3.71. He uses a consistent delivery that projects him to have good command at the MLB level. Along the way he's been working on a changeup and a curve.
Stephenson might have been delayed a bit before debuting professionally, but he's been on a fast track since. He spent only four games at the high-A level and he's the youngest pitcher on the Pensacola roster now. He probably needs some more work on his secondary offerings, but Tony Cingrani showed last year that an over-dependence on a fastball doesn't necessarily prevent a rookie pitcher from putting up a sub-three ERA at the MLB level.
Actually, Stephenson's fastball is better equipped because his command enables him to attack all areas of the plate. Also, Cingrani had some outings start out strong, but an inflated pitch count prevented him from going deep into the game. Stephenson can pound the strike zone and force hitters to swing early in the count. He doesn't have a lot of AA experience yet, so debuting with the Reds this season would probably be too early, but at the rate he's going the 2011 first-rounder is on track to get the call in 2015.
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