Tyler Stephenson, the Cincinnati Reds #3 overall prospect, is getting a lot of work in at Great American Ballpark lately, even though he’s on the Prasco Park roster. That’s not too unexpected – teams need catchers to be around and work with all of the pitchers. Stephenson isn’t likely to make the roster for opening day – he’s probably third on the catchers depth chart, but with Kyle Farmer also being able to catch he provides that safety net on the roster for Cincinnati if they want to use it in order to keep Stephenson getting every day action once the season begins.
It’s important for catchers, if possible, to have some experience with the pitchers on the staff when they do get there. Knowing the pitchers, what they like to throw, how they approach an at-bat or a lineup – those things matter and are important.
“It’s great. To learn from them (big leaguers), to be around, to get to know them – especially pitchers wise, getting to know them as much as possible,” said Stephenson about working with the Major League staff. “It’s pretty similar to what it is in spring training – pitch selection, what they like, obviously just getting to know them on a pitching level, understanding their mindset going into games.”
Getting to know the big league pitching staff isn’t just something that has taken place during the spring in Arizona and now in the summer in Cincinnati. During the shut down of baseball, the Reds coaching staff was still holding meetings between the pitchers and catchers, and Stephenson was included in those meetings.
“Yeah, it is (beneficial to get Stephenson exposed to everyone now). In spring training we try to include him as much as we can,” said manager David Bell. “Catchers, and JR did a great job of having weekly meetings over the last 3-4 months when we were out. He was included in all of those, just trying to include him in as much as we can – just kind of more than anything, just the education part of that position. I haven’t been around football a lot, but maybe kind of liken it to a quarterback where it’s so much more than the physical part of developing – it’s really understanding kind of the playbook of what we’re asking guys to do. Every day, every experience he has is just one more step towards hopefully becoming an every day catcher here for us at some point.”
“We put a lot on our catchers,” noted Bell. “If it’s possible to be even more of an important position on our team, it might be. They’re an important part of handling out pitching staff, which is a strength of our team. We put a lot on them with game preparation, and all of that. So it’s a really important spot. And Tyler, he’s in a great position being a catcher and a being a top prospect in our organization. We’re seeing why – he can really hit. ”
For Tyler Stephenson, the bat has been ahead of the defense since he was drafted. For catchers there is just so much going on and so much to learn from a defensive standpoint. It’s one reason that catchers tend to take longer to reach the Major Leagues by comparison to other positions. It didn’t help Stephenson that for the first several years of his professional career he just couldn’t stay healthy. But over the last few he has been able to stay on the field and that’s when you began to really see the defensive improvements come on quickly. Being able to get the needed repetitions behind the plate helped him start making the improvements defensively that he was being asked to.
“He’s improving defensively – he’s getting closer and closer to being able to contribute at this level. But it’s a very demanding position,” Bell said. “He hasn’t played above Double-A, but he’s coming on fast and we believe in him and we’re going to continue to work to develop him. There’s definitely no limitation’s on when he can arrive. It could happen at any time, especially given what we’re dealing with this year. We’re supporting him every way we can, but he’s doing everything he can also to get here quick.”