Christopher Crawford of ESPN.com wrote an article on Thursday, it’s titled “Prospects facing make-or-break years“. It’s for Insiders only, but on the list is Cincinnati Reds right handed pitcher Robert Stephenson.

At this point, I’d be surprised if he didn’t end up in the bullpen,” the NL Central scout said. “And he should be pretty good there. There are three strikeout pitches in his arsenal. That being said, I can’t blame Cincinnati for giving him a chance to start, for that same reason.

There’s more at the link, but essentially that covers it. It’s been a tough past few season for Stephenson. When he’s been on, he’s really been on. But, he’s also had some real stretches of struggle with his control.

The scout quoted above says it all: He’s got three strikeout pitches (all three rate out as plus pitches) to work with. You just don’t see that from many guys. That is why I think that having him included in this article is a bit of a stretch. Robert Stephenson is going to be 24-years-old in the 2017 season. He’s got one of the best arms in the organization, even if he can’t always use it to execute things. Giving up on arms like that, early, isn’t always the best idea.

I’ve made the comparison between Homer Bailey and Robert Stephenson in the past. It’s worth bringing up again. Homer Bailey started showing real improvements at age 24 in the big leagues. It wasn’t until he was 26 that he took that big step forward to being an above-average big league pitcher. Pitchers, unlike hitters, don’t improve/develop on a bell curve. One of the best pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons, Jake Arrieta didn’t even make his debut until he was 24. He wasn’t a league average pitcher until he was 28.

At the same time, not everyone can follow that path. Andrew Miller was much like Robert Stephenson. Big, big arm. Struggled to throw strikes, couldn’t establish himself. He started with the Tigers, Marlins and Red Sox until he was 27. That’s when he moved into the bullpen and when he began to absolutely dominate.

I have seen enough from Robert Stephenson that I can envision him turning into a dominant big league starting pitcher. I’ve also seen enough of Robert Stephenson to think there’s a chance he doesn’t get the control figured out enough, and heard enough people inside of baseball echo that sentiment, to think that eventually he is going to wind up in the bullpen. What I feel more confident in than either of those things though, is that 2017 is not a make-or-break season when it comes to determining his future role. Teams don’t tend to give up and move on from arms like his at 24 or 25-years-old too often.

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