The Cincinnati Reds called up catching prospect Tyler Stephenson on Tuesday before they began their series with the Chicago Cubs. Stephenson didn’t play on Tuesday, and as this article is being typed, he isn’t in the lineup on Wednesday, either.
Cincinnati’s had a catching duo of Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali as their backstop unless there was an injury keeping one, or both of them, from playing. Neither catcher has hit for much of an average this season – Barnhart is hitting .184/.271/.342 this season. Casali’s average is just .226 on the year, but he’s got a .379 on-base percentage and he’s slugging .547 – he’s not hitting a lot of singles, but when he does get hits they are going for extra-bases, and he’s walking quite a bit this season, too.
Of course at the catcher position there’s so much more to the spot than what you can do at the plate. The catcher’s main job is to handle the pitching staff and help get the most from everyone on the mound. It’s an important part of the job, and in nearly all cases, the more important part of the job – or at least teams care far more about that part of their job.
“Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali have done a great job – I’ve been around them for the last year-and-a-half – they’ve worked extremely hard to make adjustments, become really good at what they do,” said manager David Bell prior to the game on Tuesday. “Not only their game and the adjustment they’ve made, but they’ve really contributed to the success of our pitching staff. There’s a lot that goes into it, but the main thing is that we feel like this is our best team today. Tyler’s not in the lineup (Tuesday night), we’ll take it one day at a time and figure out where he can fit in and contribute.”
It certainly sounds like Bell isn’t just handing the job over to Tyler Stephenson full time. Stephenson hasn’t played in either game since he was recalled from the taxi squad/Prasco Park.
“Tyler’s worked really hard to put himself in this position to be a part of this team. So we’ll have to take it one day at a time like we’ve talked about doing with the unique nature of this season,” said Bell. “Really don’t want to get too far ahead of that – obviously he’ll catch some. He’ll also serve as a right-handed bat off of the bench and potentially DH as well. ”
We’re only two games in, but so far the opportunity hasn’t presented itself to get Tyler Stephenson into a game yet this time around. It sounds like the plan, for the little bit of the season that’s left, is to pick and choose spots to play him. Behind the plate he is going to get some playing time, but it seems that it’s not going to be a lot. At the designated hitter position things are going to likely tighten up a bit, too. Nick Senzel may be back as soon as Friday, which will likely push Jesse Winker into the role as designated hitter on any day where a right-handed pitcher is starting, and maybe even against some left-handed pitchers, too, given how he’s hit this season. That might lead to a few starts a week for the next three weeks and maybe some pinch hitting opportunities for Stephenson.
The Reds have 17 games remaining this regular season. That’s not much time. While this is technically a September call up, it’s not like past September call ups. Rosters are expanded in 2020, but only to 28 players – not the potential 40 players that would have been on a September roster in the past. That makes it a situation where it’ll be rare for a guy to be up and not really play at all – the roster is going to be used.
Still, just how much playing time, and how many at-bats are given to Stephenson is a big question. They’re going to be tough to come by as a designated hitter given the roster make up. Even in a scenario where he would start every third game the rest of the way that’s probably enough to garner 20 at-bats or so? Throw in a few pinch hitting chances and you’re looking at about 25-30 at-bats on the season. Unless he sees more time behind the plate than the other two catchers do, it’s going to be tough to get a real accumulation of at-bats moving forward in 2020.