Scouting Yankee Prospect #22: Jason Stephens

There is a reason the Yankees broke the bank on a 6th round draft pick in the 2003 Amateur Draft. That draftee was Jason Stephens and find out what made him worth a $500,000 signing bonus. Stephens is our Yankee's prospect #22.

Vital Statistics
Name: Jason Stephens
Position: Pitcher
DOB: October 10, 1984
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 190
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Place of Residence: Tallmadge, Ohio
How Acquired: The New York Yankees selected right handed pitcher Jason Stephens in the 6th round (184th overall) of the 2003 amateur draft.

It is not an exaggeration to say that when they drafted Jason Stephens, the Yankees probably got a first or second round talent. The only thing is that they got him in the 6th round. Maybe they stirred the pot a little by signing him for $500,000, well out of the suggested slotting rules. To put it in perspective, most 6th round picks receive around $150,000. However, a sum like that would not have sealed the deal. But, as usual, what the Yankees want, the Yankees most always get. Stephens bypassed college and went for the big bucks of the New York Yankees. But, there had to be a reason the Yankees were willing to hand out this money to a high schooler. Over his entire high school career at Tallmadge, Jason Stephens could not have pitched any better as an amateur player. In his career there, he compiled a dominating overall record of 26-2 which is amazing by any standards in baseball. One official was even quoted as saying "Jason Stephens is probably the best player in Ohio." It was clear that Jason Stephens heavily overmatched most other high school players and scouts were able to easily point it out. Jason Stephens was lined up and set for stardom straight out of high school.

After Stephens graduated high school, he was lined up for a scholarship at Georgia Tech but on the other hand, scouts were predicting that he would get selected in the first three rounds of the 2003 amateur draft. Stephens thought that his scholarship would work to his advantage by using it to get more money from major league teams. However, in a way it ended up hurting the chances of what should have been a much higher draft selection than he actually got.

Stephens ended up being selected in the 6th round by the New York Yankees. There is no doubt that Stephens may have been a 1st-3rd round talent but why would a team want to waste a pick on him when it was fairly certain that he would attend college? Stephens did have his looming scholarship, for these teams to think about, that he could have very easily accepted to Georgia Tech. But, to the great pleasure of the New York Yankees and mostly as a direct result of their thick wallets, Stephens turned down the scholarship to Georgia Tech and decided to make the jump right to the minors. "I was thrilled to be drafted by the Yankees," Stephens told PinstripesPlus.com. "By far, they have the best program for their minor leaguers and I had heard they treated their players well. I mean, really, the way they treat us is ridiculous. Compared to all the other players in other systems, we have no expenses. It's great and I'm just happy to be a part of the Yankees."

Following the 2003 draft and once he was under contract, the highly touted Jason Stephens was assigned to the Gulf Coast league Yankees to play the 2003 season. At the age of only 18 years old, Stephens began the season as a relief pitcher for the Gulf Coast Yankees; a role he hadn't seen that much of in his days in high school ball. However, the Yankees saw a lot of maturity in him and believed that he could easily handle it. However, a relief role is not where he was thought to be slated for in his professional career. It was only a brief showcase of his great skills. The 2004 season would be the one in which the Yankees saw Stephens in his true role, starting.

Jason Stephens did not have a great year in his first full campaign in the Yankee organization but also wasn't terrible either. He went 0-2 as a reliever with a 4.55 ERA over 31.2 innings pitched along with 25 strikeouts. Many scouts and coaches did not worry about Stephens' less than spectacular performance in his first season and were confident that he would be much better in 2004. "In my first year, it just seemed like an impossible thing to do," said Stephens. "I was not nervous the first year or anything, but I thought I had to be too perfect my first year. I was more relaxed this past season and I just pitched my game. I figured if I threw strikes good things would happen."

As Stephens said, good things would happen in 2004. Yes, it certainly was surprising to see Jason Stephens back in the Gulf Coast League for the 2004 season. Maybe it wasn't shocking but surprising, nonetheless. Something that also wasn't shocking is the type of outstanding season he put together. But, the question is, why was he not promoted? Maybe the Yankees felt they didn't want to take him out of the groove he was in or for other reasons. However, his statistics certainly didn't hold him back. Stephens showed fantastic control to go along with good power pitching ability also. It was an outstanding season by all counts, one in which most likely earned him a spot in the 2005 rotation in low A Charleston.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

GCL Yankees

5-3

1

48.1

55

10

48

2.61

2003

GCL Yankees

0-2

1

31.2

42

9

25

4.55


* Stats as of 10/1/04

Repertoire. Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Changeup

Fastball. Many times, when drafting a high school pitcher, it is all about projectability. When the Yankees drafted Jason Stephens his velocity hovered around 90 MPH or below. But, they are looking for him to be guy who, in the future, will be pitching around 93 MPH and topping out around 94 MPH. He will likely fill out his thin, wiry frame quite a bit and naturally add some pop to his fastball. To put it simply, he has the live arm that makes you think he will definitely be a pitcher with a plus fastball in the future. The ball explodes out of his hand and surprises hitters with his smooth arm motion. Scouts marveled at the arm speed he could generate before and after the Yankees drafted him in 2003. He is able to locate his fastball well and has very strong command of it also.

Other Pitches. Besides an excellent moving fastball, Jason Stephens also possesses a wicked forkball that drops off the table for hitters. However, as their policy, the Yankees have requested that Stephens put that pitch in his back pocket until he is older, much like they did with Christian Garcia. In fact, they may throw it away completely and let him continue to develop his changeup. He has a plan on the mound on how to set hitters up with his out pitch. But, even without his forkball, Stephens has many other options to turn to. He also flashes a potentially dominating slider that has good, late bit. He can make it be extra tough on righties. But, guess what? That pitch goes on the shelf too. The Yankees don't want him throwing his slider until he is more physically matured. As it turns out, taking away some of his best pitches has helped Stephens. His curveball is vastly improved and has become his out pitch over the past season. Here is what he had to say about his off speed stuff. "My changeup is around 79-81 MPH and I am still working on perfecting that pitch," said the tall righthander. "My curveball got a lot better this past year. It's in the 70-73 MPH range and it is kind of my out pitch right now."

Pitching. If you want to talk about maturity at a young age, Jason Stephens is your man. That is one of the primary reasons he was such a big time draft prospect to begin with. When he steps onto the mound, he has plan on how to get each hitter out. His intelligence is one of his strongest attributes and he knows exactly how to attack each hitter. Even though he has excellent stuff, he never takes it for granted. His location and command is outstanding for a 20 year old and that should be one of the attributes that launches him through the system. He doesn't fear any hitter and is confident in all his pitches. His fastball and curveball are superb and his third pitch was about average until 2004. His slider is what will put him over the top once he is allowed to throw it again. Here is what his pitching coach, Gary Calhoun had to say about him in an interview wiht PinstripesPlus.com. "Sometimes, I think he's smarter than I am. He's a great kid that always has positive comments for the coaches and his teammates. He likes his curveball a lot and is able to throw it at two speeds. When he is locked in, he was just great. He has the same approach to pitching as Mike Mussina and I wish the best for that kid. If there's one thing he needs to work on it is his movement with his pitches."

Projection. When the Yankees drafted Jason Stephens, there was a reason they shelled out the big bucks just to get him under contract. Stephens has the potential to be a future #2 starter, there is no doubt about that. He is still only 20 years old and will probably be a big part of the Charleston rotation next season. He looked fantastic in the Gulf Coast League this year as he showed exactly why he has a future spot at the top of a Major League rotation. The only thing keeping him from the top of this list is his lack of full season experience.

ETA. 2008. At this point it is almost impossible to predict when Jason Stephens will be ready to pitch in the big leagues. He is only 20 years old and a lot of things could happen in his young career, for better or for worse. However, the path that is most likely would have him playing in the majors by 2008. He will probably start next season in Charleston to start the season. 2005 will be a season likely spent in Tampa for Stephens and by 2006 he could easily be in Trenton. On the other hand, it is still hard to tell, but he could be in Columbus in 2007. Then if all goes well, Jason Stephens could be joining the Bronx Bombers by the year 2008.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories