Tyler Stephenson has made a point this season of capitalizing on his opportunities. He only needed one to make a big impact Thursday.
Cincinnati's No. 8 prospect clubbed a ninth-inning grand slam to cap a three-hit game and lead Class A Dayton past Beloit, 7-2, at Pohlman Field.
Stephenson was at the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and the Dragons clinging to a 3-2 lead. Snappers reliever Xavier Altamirano loaded the bases, but was an out away from escaping the jam after Jose Siri hit into a line-drive double play.
But with John Sansone batting, Altamirano uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Michael Beltre to advance to third. T.J. Friedl stole second and Sansone walked to load the bases again before Stephenson drove an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for his first homer since April 12.
"Just looking for a ball to drive," the 20-year-old catcher said. "It was just a crazy inning. Some calls didn't go our way and it was a one-run game. I fouled the first pitch off, then just controlled myself and slowed things down and got my pitch."
Stephenson also singled to center in the second and fourth, struck out in the sixth and walked in the eighth. With his first three-hit game this season, the 2015 first-round pick raised his average 22 points to .302.
"I'll take it as a day," Stephenson said. "I was looking for my pitch and then being patient. That's what I've kind of been all year. Look for my pitch to drive and then when I get it, just don't miss it, because you might not get many opportunities like that."
Thursday's game represented another positive sign in a bounceback campaign for the Atlanta native. He finished 2016 with a slash line of .216/.278/.324 in 39 games with Dayton while battling concussion and wrist injuries.
Through 23 games this year, Stephenson sports a .302/.394/.477 line with three homers and 23 RBIs.
He said better health has played a major role in helping him find his footing with the Dragons.
"It's just a different mind-set," the Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.) High School product said. "I'm positive about everything going on and I'm confident and just having fun. I know at times last year it was hard to get in a groove and everything just because I'm on the DL and then next thing you know I'm off the DL.
"I was fighting that all year. It's hard mentally to do that, being on and off all the time. This year, I'm healthy, confident and I'm having fun."
Beltre doubled and drove in two for Dayton.
Dragons starter Scott Moss (3-1) gave up an unearned run on five hits while walking four and fanning five over five innings.
Dalton Sawyer (2-2) yielded two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out six over 4 1/3 frames for Beloit.
Nate Mondou had three hits, two walks and drove in two for the Snappers.