Stephenson growing with AFL experience

Reds No. 7 prospect becoming comfortable behind, at plate

Tyler Stephenson notched a .974 OPS in his first five Arizona Fall League games. (Buck Davidson/Getty Images)

By Brian Stultz / MiLB.com | October 1, 2019 11:00 AM

Tyler Stephenson is used to being the young guy on the team.

The 23-year-old catcher and seventh-ranked Reds prospect said that won't be a problem as he takes on the task of playing in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he sees it as a major advantage.

"It's a great opportunity being out here," Stephenson said. "I'm getting the opportunity here to get with some of the older guys and learn how to handle the pitching staff."

Learning. That's a word that Stephenson kept bringing up. At the Double-A level this season for the first time with Chattanooga, the backstop started seeing some of the things that go into preparing for a game, series and opponent.

"Everyone talks about that jump going to Double-A," he said. "This was the first year that scouting reports were sort of a big thing … really having to sit down before Game 1 of a series and paying attention to the hitters and doing all this stuff."

Video: Lookouts' Stephenson homers to left

Reds coordinator for player development Mark Heil has seen the growth in the catcher. While he hasn't worked with Stephenson much on the field, Heil gives credit to Reds Minor League coach Corky Miller for his rise.

"I have gotten to know [Stephenson] pretty well through the leadership stuff we have done and obviously going around and seeing him play in Dayton and on up," Heil said. "Obviously a great kid. He's come a long way in the three or four years that I have known him."

With the Lookouts this season, Stephenson put up a career-high .285 average and raked for a .410 slugging percentage, but his home run total (six) was down. Heil said that power will start to come, especially considering Stephenson is likely still putting weight on his 6-foot-4 frame.

"That is a pretty awesome year for him, Heil said. "He really did a good job performing offensively in the Southern League. We are hoping that continues on into the fall league as well. I think he kind of went under the radar a bit this summer considering the year he put up."

The catcher's defense was probably the best of his career. In 87 games, Stephenson allowed just five passed balls, tying a career best, and his fielding percentage of .992 followed up a .996 percentage in 2018 at Class A Advanced Daytona.

"Defensively, he's worked really really hard to come as far as receiving and blocking and being a little more mobile, which for a big guy like he is, it is important," Heil said.

It was a season both offensive and defensive that the Reds have been waiting for since taking Stephenson 11th overall in the 2015 Draft. Injuries limited him to just 31 games in 2016, but the young player showed his professionalism in rehab.

Offseason MiLB include

"He had some tough seasons early on and missed time with some injuries, but he has already worked hard to get back on the field," Heil said.

With transition in the organization comes new coaches that Stephenson had the opportunity to work with this year, especially during Spring Training, when he joined the big league team for the first time in his five-year career.

"I kind of got to experience all of the new coaches and stuff and new personnel," he said. "So it was good to get to know those guys and we worked on some things hitting-wise and I transitioned that in this past season and it felt really good and I'm continuing with it."

There has been some hype heading into the six-week AFL schedule for Stephenson. With the big league Reds going through a rebuilding process built on youth, the Atlanta native could become the catcher of the future in the Queen City. Just don't expect Stephenson to get caught up in himself.

"It wasn't until my senior year that I became more a high-profile guy," he said. "I've never been one to pay attention to all of the hype because at the end of the day, I have to go out and compete and play and do my best every day. That's all I really care about."

That attitude leads back to his youth, especially when it comes to dealing with the more veteran guys on the roster.

"It was hard to speak for myself because I didn't want to come across a strong way like, 'Oh, this young kid who was drafted out of high school is trying to tell me what to do,'" he said.

As for his time in the AFL, Stephenson is planning to take advantage of facing off against some of the top talents from all levels.

"It's an amazing opportunity because you have some of the top guys in the Minor Leagues," he said.

With the career path he is on, it won't be long before Stephenson will be facing some of the same guys at the big league level.

Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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