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The season did not get out to a good start for right hander Robert Stephenson. Through his first four starts with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos he had an ERA of 8.31 in 17.1 innings to go along with 11 walks and 22 strikeouts, all while allowing three home runs.
From May 6th through June 28th, over his final 10 starts with Pensacola, he posted a 2.36 ERA in 61.0 innings. For a stretch of 43.1 innings, starting on May 23rd he would walk just 15 batters and strike out 54 that helped earn him a promotion to Triple-A Louisville.
With the Bats there were some ups and downs for Stephenson. The highlight came on July 28th when he fired 8.0 shutout innings with a walk and 10 strikeouts. Things didn’t always go smoothly though as he would struggled two starts later in Durham, not making it through five innings while walking four.
In the middle of August there was a scare against the Columbus Clippers when he left a start early with a wrist issue. He missed two weeks before returning in limited action for two starts before throwing 6.2 innings in his final start of the year.
There were some improvements shown throughout the season, but he still struggled at times to find consistency, particularly with throwing strikes at different times. Overall, his control did improve compared to the previous season despite a similar walk rate overall.
Fastball | The bread and butter pitch for Stephenson took a step backwards in terms of velocity in the 2015 season, but it was by design. The pitch worked mostly in the 91-95 MPH range as he purposefully dialed things back in order to throw more strikes. The pitch picked up more movement on both planes. He still was able to dial things up to 99 when he needed it, showing it off at different times throughout the season.
Curveball | The curveball remained his put-away pitch, flashing plus potential. He was able to throw it in the zone a little more frequently in 2015 than the previous years, but will still need to be a little more consistent.
Split-Finger | In the past, Stephenson had thrown a change up, but that pitch was scrapped in favor of a split-finger, much like what Homer Bailey did several years ago. The pitch was a difference maker as it was immediately an improvement over the change up and was an average pitch at worst and flashed itself as above-average more often than not.
Other | There is some concern that the split-finger pitch is directly responsible for the injury late in August that led to the wrist issues as the pitch is known to cause wrist and forearm issues. It will be interesting to see if the pitch is still a part of his arsenal next season after the Reds saw Homer Bailey pick up the pitch and eventually have to have his flexor tendon repaired and miss an entire season.
The control is going to continue to need to improve for Stephenson if he is going to get the most out of his raw talent. There were steps taken forward there in 2015, but he will still battle to repeat his mechanics at times which is a large part of the control issues.
With three above-average pitches or better to work, he’s got the upside of a top of the rotation arm. With his struggles to consistently throw strikes though, his floor remains much lower than that.