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Southern notes: Stephenson going strong

Reds No. 5 prospect continues to develop while in the spotlight
A first-round pick in 2015, Chattanooga's Tyler Stephenson is hitting .270 with four homers in 49 Double-A games. (Brian McLeod/
June 27, 2019

Tyler Stephenson doesn't get caught up in the hype of being one of the top talents in the Reds organization. Ranked as Cincinnati's No. 5 prospect entering 2019, the Chattanooga Lookouts catcher takes everything in stride.He's battled injuries, tough days at the plate and growing pains behind it. Through it

Tyler Stephenson doesn't get caught up in the hype of being one of the top talents in the Reds organization. Ranked as Cincinnati's No. 5 prospect entering 2019, the Chattanooga Lookouts catcher takes everything in stride.
He's battled injuries, tough days at the plate and growing pains behind it. Through it all, he keeps pushing forward.

"I just want to continue to stay healthy and continue to learn and get better every day," Stephenson said. "I don't put too much weight on my shoulders. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I just try to be consistent every day. That's all I can ask for."
Drafted in the first round by the Reds in 2015, going 11th overall out of Kennesaw Mountain High School in Georgia -- there was talk of him going No. 1 -- Stephenson has shown flashes of his potential. He's hitting .270/.345/.397 over his first 49 games in the Double-A Southern League, including a 3-for-4 performance on Wednesday that included his fourth homer of the season.
"Being drafted where I was, you have a lot of eyes on you and everything, but I kind of just go with it," Stephenson said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you are drafted. You just have to go out and compete."
He understands what it's like to not be able to compete as well. In his first full season of pro ball in 2016 with the Class A Dayton Dragons, he missed a couple of weeks early on because of a concussion.
That was only the beginning of his injury woes. Three more stints on the disabled list followed, all because of a left wrist injury.
Everything seemed to be going Stephenson's way in 2017 until he tore a ligament in his right thumb. He had been named a Midwest League All-Star that season and was hitting .278 with six home runs in 80 games with the Dragons.
"I was having a really good year. I was sliding into second and jammed my thumb. I didn't really think anything of it at the time," Stephenson said. "It ended up putting me out for the rest of the year. It was one of those fluke things that happened."
Yet, he's overcome it. Stephenson went out and hit .250/.338/.392 in 109 games last year with Class A Advanced Daytona, belting 11 home runs, and has carried that momentum and confidence into this season.

Those days in rehab, you are anxious and just want to get back with the team," Stephenson said. "I went into the offseason that year and said I'm going to have a rocking year, and I was lucky enough to be healthy. It was a great year, a great learning experience. I was satisfied. I feel good about the way this year has gone, too."
Chattanooga manager Pat Kelly called Stephenson a big catcher with some strength and someone who has the potential to be the future of the Reds organization behind the plate. He noted Stephenson is on the right track.
"His release has gotten quicker throwing guys out and he's also gotten a feel for the position he needs to be in on the receiving end of some of those lower pitches. It always takes high school catchers longer to develop. I compare him to [former Reds catcher] Devin Mesoraco. Tyler battled some injuries like Devin did earlier in his career but has really taken off in Double-A the way Devin did."

Stephenson said he's certainly further along than he was when he started.
"Looking back from high school until now, I think about how much I thought I knew and what I actually know now," Stephenson said. "I thought I was really good in high school, but looking back, it's cool to see the development and how far everything has come for me since high school. I've been very pleased and hope to continue to build off that."
Of course, Stephenson will be the first to tell you catching isn't easy.
"The grind of it is the toughest thing. Everybody calls you the quarterback of baseball," Stephenson said. "You can't take a pitch off. I was fortunate enough to learn that at a young age. Even if you aren't swinging the bat well, you can't let that affect you when you are behind the plate."
Stephenson had an opportunity to learn from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart in Spring Training and called that a valuable experience. Having a manager who played the position has also aided his development.
"I had never had a manager who was a catcher. It's great having that connection with [Pat Kelly]," Stephenson said. "I can talk to him about situations and ask him what he thinks. He's a great manager to play for."
Passionate about baseball, Stephenson, interestingly enough, was on the swim team his senior year of high school, calling it one of his most enjoyable sports experiences. He wishes he had done it sooner in school because the workout in the pool made a difference for him on the field during baseball season.
Playing in Chattanooga puts him only 90 minutes from home, meaning his family gets more opportunities to watch him in action. He's happy with how he's handled the jump to Double-A and knows going forward, success and the shot to one day play in Cincinnati hinges on staying the course.
"It comes down to routine and preparation, and sticking to it," Stephenson said. "Even the best of the best have had tough days. But if the game was easy and you got a hit every time, it wouldn't be any fun. If you have a bad game, you have to forget about it and move on. You wipe the slate clean and get ready for the next day."
In brief
Streak continues:Jhonny Pereda owns a hot bat at the moment. He stretched his hitting streak to six games Tuesday in Tennessee's 8-6 win over Chattanooga. Pereda tallied a two-out, run-scoring double to keep the streak going and entered the night coming off a series in Montgomery, where he hit .363.
Gurwitz gets it done:Zane Gurwitz came through with a pair of hits and also drove in his first two runs in Double-A as he helped Mobile defeat Birmingham, 5-4, on Tuesday. Gurwitz tied the game in the eighth with a base hit. He's had 10 games with two or more hits this season, including six in the month of June.

Brian Lester is a contributor to