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When the 2015 season began in the minor leagues, Tyler Stephenson was still playing high school baseball. The Reds would draft him 11th overall in the 2015 draft and sign him rather quickly. The organization would send the 18-year-old catcher to Billings where he would play his entire first season with the Mustangs.
He would play in nine games in June and get out to a slow start, sort of. He hit just .235 in June, but did post a .350 on-base percentage thanks to five walks in nine games to go along with eight strikeouts. His final line in 40 plate appearances would be .235/.350/.324.
July would turn out quite a bit better. Over the first week of the month Stephenson would hit .417/.462/.542 with three doubles and as many walks, two, as strikeouts. He would then go into a slump over the next eight games, going just 3-27 (.111) that took him through the 21st. The catcher would finish strong over the final stretch, hitting .476/.522/.524 over six games. The month would finish with a line of .319/.380/.389 with seven walks and 12 strikeouts in 79 plate appearances. His power wasn’t showing up yet, but the rest of his offensive game was.
August began well enough for the Georgia native, hitting .286 over the first 10 days of the month, but would find himself in a slump over the next nine days, hitting just .167. Things would turn around over the next two weeks where he would hit .282 and on August 23rd he’d finally hit his first home run. After going 3-4 on September 3rd he would go 1-10 to finish the season. For August and September the catcher would post a .239/.330/.352 line in 100 plate appearances.
He was a bit inconsistent at the plate, which isn’t surprising given that he was just out of high school and facing mostly college players. His .268/.352/.361 line was solid in his debut and he showed off good plate discipline with 22 walks and 49 strikeouts over 219 plate appearances. His power didn’t show up, at least in the home run department but the rest of his offense game was there. Behind the plate he had some struggles, making eight errors in 46 games and allowing 13 passed balls. He did throw out 27% of attempted base stealers.
Hitting | With a line drive oriented approach and an ability, and willingness to use the entire field, Stephenson shows an above-average hit tool.
Power | At 6′ 4″ and 225 lbs, he’s got the size and will gain the strength to hit 20 home runs if he can get the most from his power. Currently his swing is more line drive oriented than a power swing to get loft on the baseball. He should naturally gain some power as his body matures some and he adds muscle, but working with his mechanics to generate more loft would take his power output to the next level.
Running | As a catcher he’s not expected to be much of a runner, and he’s not. While he’s not a lumbering type out there, he’s not turning any heads with his legs and is a below-average runner.
Arm | The best tool that Stephenson offers is his above-average to plus arm strength behind the plate.
Defense | All of the tools are here for Stephenson. He’s athletic, has good hands and has a strong arm. With that said, there is a lot of work to do behind the plate. That can be said for most teenage catchers throughout the history of the game, so this isn’t a big knock. He’s going to have to cut down on the errors and passed balls as he moves up the ladder. He’s got quiet hands behind the plate, which could help him frame pitches in the future.
The one concern with Stephenson is that he outgrows the catcher position. There aren’t too many catchers in baseball history that were much larger than Stephenson already is. If he eventually has to move to another position, his bat should still play, but it won’t be the kind of asset that it could be if he remains at the catcher position.