2017 Reds / 2017 Spring Training

Has Robert Stephenson learned his lesson?

Remember last year, when Robert Stephenson — who has been highly rated on all prospect lists, both within the Reds organization and league-wide, since the day he was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft — was publicly called out by AAA Louisville manager Delino DeShields?

“This is what we’ve been going through with this kid for the last three or four years,” DeShields said, referring to Stephenson’s control issues. “Until he makes an adjustment, it’s going to continue. It’s not going to get better. It’s on him. He’s been told what he needs to do and what he needs to work on by numerous coaches and staff members. It’s up to him to make those adjustments. If I was him, I’d be embarrassed.”

At the time, we thought that was pretty bad form by DeShields, and possibly a little unfair to boot. As Steve noted:

The substance of what DeShields said last night isn’t the issue. At least not here. We have no way of knowing whether Stephenson’s inconsistency is a function of his youth, his obstinance, erratic instruction over the years or a combination of those factors. DeShields is a no-nonsense, old-school guy who rubs some people the wrong way. (He’s also the guy who batted Jesse Winker 7th in the order more than once.) But Stephenson has a reputation for stubbornness.

Strong, fair criticism by DeShields could help if done right.

Where I part ways with DeShields is involving all the world. If you think Stephenson needs to hear that message, deliver it one-on-one. That’s what a thousand coaches have successfully done with a thousand headstrong players spanning every competitive endeavor. If you think a little peer pressure will help, make the criticism in front of a couple carefully chosen teammates. But not in earshot of the general public. Not where Stephenson’s family will read about it.

For the first time, Stephenson has responded publicly, in this report from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon:

“You know, it wasn’t true. He wasn’t around to see my work with the pitching coaches,” Stephenson said. “I listen to what everybody tells me. I’d be dumb not to listen. It’s not like I’ve had a lot of success where I can tell everybody I’m going to do it one way and not listen to anybody. I kind of ignored it. It wasn’t a problem for me. It was a problem for him.”

Make of that what you will.

The rest of Sheldon’s piece was a pretty optimistic piece about what Stephenson learned through his struggles last year, and why he thinks he’s poised for a big improvement in 2017.

“I think I learned a lot about myself, confidence-wise,” Stephenson said on Tuesday before Reds pitchers and catchers held their first workout. “I just need to be more relaxed and stay positive. There were times I tried to do too much and impress everyone. That’s when I really struggled. I pitched tight. I wasn’t relaxed and loose. I pitched a lot better when I was more free.”

“I really need to work on hitting the inside target,” Stephenson said. “I wanted to get a lot better at that during the offseason, especially this spring. There were a lot of times last year where we needed to go inside on somebody based on the scouting report. I’d try to go inside, miss over the middle of the plate and get hit really hard.”

Go read the entire piece. If Stephenson and Cody Reed start pitching like the top prospects that they have been in the (very) recent past, this is going to be a very interesting spring indeed.

73 thoughts on “Has Robert Stephenson learned his lesson?

  1. I think in the full article by Sheldon, Stephenson commented on being able to hit the inside corner in the bullpen but with a hitter in the batters box he keeps leaving it out over the plate. If so, unless he can correct that, it’s not going to be pretty. I hope he can, or has, corrected it but I’m taking very much a wait-and-see attitude about it.

    • It seems to me that if he can hit the inside corner in the pen, but the ball backs up over the plate when he’s on the mound, he’s probably afraid that he will hit the batter. Shouldn’t bob/steve be able to throw inside below the waist? If you do hit someone in the leg, it might lead to a brawl, but not endanger the batter to the extent that a head high fastball would. MLB pitchers must be able to pitch inside to be successful (unless they have Koufax, Randy Johnson or Walter Johnson stuff.)

  2. The only thing Deshields excels at as a manager is the induction of head-scratching, IMO.

    • I honestly can’t say what the Reds see in DeShields as a manager. I don’t dislike him as much as you do but I don’t see very many positive traits either.

    • In my experience, he handles players very well. Game strategy… meh. It doesn’t matter in the minors because it’s not about winning. Players respect him and his tendency to be honest seems to go over well.

      We can argue about Stephenson, I guess. But, frankly, he’s had the exact same issue since he was drafted.

      • You spend a lot of time catching games down there so I’ll go with your judgement on DeShields.

  3. I’m old school. If you get called out like that in public, chances are that you deserved to be.

    However, I get that these millennial players might be a bit emotionally fragile, so maybe it wasn’t the best form by Delino. Just because it is deserved, doesn’t mean it should happen.

      • Back in my day, the Reds were a powerhouse and Sparky didn’t take crap from anyone.

        • Back in my day, hall of famers were better than Zack Cozart and Jose Peraza.

      • I’d forgotten that, but you’re right: emotions were invented in 1992. You could look it up.

    • The name of his job is “Manager”

      Not everyone has the skill set to get the best out of people. And he is at the minor league level trying to prove himself.

      Now if Stephenson was not working out, showing up drunk or stoned everyday or missed practices or the team bus, plane or meetings, well then yes you call him out because that is behavior that hurts the discipline of the team.

      Missing with a pitched ball by 3 inches when you are trying to do your best does not fall into that category.

      And since he does bat Winker 7th when everyone on the planet knows he should hit higher, then you start to tune him out as a nut job who does not really care about winning

      I think Stephenson will be with the organization a lot longer than Delino

      • Probably. But if he can’t throw strikes, he’ll be out before Delino.

        Throw strikes, please. Accept the consequences if you don’t.

        And I don’t get why Winker batted 7th either.

        • I think it is because he has a false view that W-L matters in AAA. In each of those games (4, I think) it cost Winker an extra at-bat. So, 4 at-bats isn’t a huge deal, but when he’s the top (at the time) hitting prospect in the system, he should be getting as many ABs as he can, not losing out to people like Juan Perez (?) and Hernan Irribarren. It’s negligence, IMO, and if I were in the Reds FO I’d have told them “Winker bats no lower than 3rd or you’re fired, no exceptions.”

    • “There’s no crying in Baseball”
      Imagined if today’s social media had saw that play from A League of Their Own…

      Tom Hanks would have been crucified.

    • Not sure if it is a “millennial” thing. I think some of it depends on the player involved. Some players need to be called out and calling them out seems to motivate them and get the most out of them. Other guys, like me (soooo not a millenial), just get upset or pissed off by it. Had my manager done that to me, it would have gotten really, really ugly. Probably would have gotten suspended.

      • A manager needs to figure out the best way to handle each player. Stephenson seems upset by it but that isn’t always a bad thing. Can’t say it was the right way either. That’s the hardest part of being a manager. Finding the right way to motivate each individual player is hard.

      • I’m very much like you LW, encouragement worked for me, yelling at me or excessive criticism never went well. For some people that may work. Not for me though.

        • Leading with my temper was often a bad idea. That said, it did occasionally pay off, oddly enough.

    • Right, because all millennial students are cry babies is obviously the only logical solution here…

      • Never said it was. But all of you millennials expect the world to hand you something without working for it. Now get off my lawn and go back to your safe space, so that I can continue to yell at the sun.

        • “But all of you millennials expect the world to hand you something without working for it.”

          I’m not a millennial, but this is hard to take serious when boomers literally had the world handed to them, and have messed up everything that they touched.

        • Gee, CP: Even though I’m a Boomer, I take no offense, though I’m not sure we had the world “handed to us” in any way that any new generation hasn’t. And, of course, there’s the point that every generation before and since has messed up everything that it touched. Aside from that, I agree wholeheartedly.

  4. It will be interesting to watch Stephenson’s development this year. We have to remember that pitchers don’t usually develop in a linear progression. There are fits and starts. You can find it in the history for almost every one.

    To be clear, in my original post, I said that DeShields shouldn’t have gone to the public with the complaint. I said that if the situation was right, perhaps call Stephenson out in front of his teammates. That”s public in a sense, but not all the way.

    DeShields questioned Stephenson’s entire time in the organization and said he should be embarrassed about it. The only point of putting in the paper where Stephenson’s friends and family would see it was, as Marty Brennaman said, to humiliate his pitcher.

    It’s one thing to criticize an employee in front of co-workers. It’s another to criticize them in front of friends and family. It’s wrong and it doesn’t work.

  5. Has Stephenson learned his lesson?
    No. His comments still smack of arrogance.
    Stephenson is afraid to pitch inside. Plain and simple. When he is in the bullpen practicing, why doesn’t he have someone stand in as a simulated batter? This is very perplexing.
    Stephenson was ranked as high as the #22 prospect in baseball not that long ago. Today he is in the high 90’s or fallen out of some top-100 prospects in baseball. Stephenson’s stock has taken a nose-dive. The Reds are going to be dependent upon Stephenson and Reed early on with Homer’s absence. Stephenson has to step up. This is his last chance. If he struggles early again this year, his trade value will be less than Cozart’s is now.
    Another player the Reds held on too long with and watched their trade value plummet.

    • “Smack of arrogance?”

      …or are true? Neither of us were there so we don’t know, but I find it just as likely that DeShields was mistaken in his view of Stephenson not being willing to make adjustments

      • “I kind of ignored it. It wasn’t a problem for me. It was a problem for him.”
        Taken in context, this is arrogant. Not confident, and not cocky. Arrogant. The, “Hey, it’s not my problem, it’s his problem” attitude is arrogant. It is very disrespectful, too. While I am not a fan of DeShields, nor Stephenson for that matter, it is his job to put a boot into Stephenson’s rear if needed. Doing it to the press, was where DeShields went wrong.
        Stephenson had a golden opportunity last season, and he blew it. He has an even better golden opportunity this season, but will he seize it? If my life depended on Stephenson rising to the occasion, I’d be out buying a headstone and grave plot.

        • Now that’s conviction WVRedlegs! I hope you’re wrong and wouldn’t need that headstone for a long, long time. The Reds need you to be wrong too. They are relying a lot of Stephenson and Reed this year and the young guys need to at least show they belong. They don’t need to be stars and there will certainly be ups and downs, but overall, they need to show they are MLB pitchers.

        • This is my impression as well. RS reminds me a bit of a younger Homer Bailey…….talented, wild, headstrong.

        • I like how you said “taken in context”, but then removed the context and only used a single sentence. Also note that in the actual piece by Sheldon, there was an additional paragraph preceding that one copy/pasted above that said:

          “In August, Stephenson was criticized in the media by Louisville manager Delino DeShields. The comments included that Stephenson should be embarrassed for not making the adjustments as directed by his coaches. DeShields later apologized for sending such a message through the media.”

          Therefore, taken in real context, this seems to be Robert Stephenson stating that DeShields’ decision to make the statement wasn’t a problem for him, but it caused enough problems for DeShields that he had to apologize. It appears Stephenson just shrugged it off because he didn’t feel the criticism was true, although he acknowledges that he has to have better results.

        • Have you seen a tape of the interview? Simply reading a transcript, it’s impossible to pick up on the non-verbal cues that would support your case for arrogance.

          Keep in mind the age of Robert Stephenson as well. He could have just easily meant that he had moved on from Deshields emotional outburst, but that Deshields caught lots of blowback.

        • Not sure that it is arrogant, cocky or confident. It might be an attempt to deal with being attacked–unfairly, in Stephenson’s view–without blowing it up into a major event. Infelicitously phrased, perhaps.

    • he just needs to watch some video of Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson or Don Gullett or Jose Rijo. Talk with Rob Dibble if he comes around in spring.

      I think this type of confidence thing can be overcome

      Have him plan on hitting one batter in the leg in each spring game start

      • Yes, 10 minutes of Don Drysdale on YouTube should fix the problem. I’m going to watch a Michael Jordan video so I can dominant in basketball tonight.

        • I guess Joey Votto reading Ted Williams book on hitting was a waste of time…..

          Or maybe your comment was

      • Reading about Williams may have helped or it may not have had any impact. Votto is extremely talented, possesses an extraordinary standard of excellence and is willing to work. Learning about Williams is a reflection of Votto’s dedication to his craft. It’s one piece to a large puzzle.

        Your exact words were ” He just needs to……”

    • Maybe it’s true. May DeSheilds has no clue what he’s talking about. He wasn’t a pitcher, so I’m going to assume Deshields has no clue what he’s talking about regarding pitching until someone smarter than me shows me why I’m wrong.

      • I’m not sure I’m smarter than you but one can understand pitching without necessarily being a pitcher. Catchers know a ton about pitching. Some infielders I’ve known have seen something that a pitcher is doing and can sort them out. It’s crazy. Some good hitters also really have a clue about pitching. Again, it’s crazy what ballplayers seem to know relative to what position they play or have played. There are a lot of times it doesn’t seem to make sense.

  6. I really don’t understand what Stephenson said. First, “. . .it wasn’t true.” Then, “I listen to what everybody tells me. I’d be dumb not to listen.” But, then, “I kind of ignored it.” Listening means he accepts it and looks to ingrain it into his psyche, his makeup, not ignore it. It looks like to me Delino may have been correct, at least to a point.

    • Wow Steve. Those quotes were presented without any context.

      I thought every one of the quotes you listed addressed a very specific point or question. The responses were on point, direct and did not represet any contradictions when presented in context.

      DeShields may have been correct in his very public criticisms or DeShields may have been reacting emotionally to Stephenson’s inability to respond to the instruction he had received. I think the inconsistency of the Reds development program in their minor league system has been well documented and has been seriously addressed by DW during this past off-season. Unfortunately, six years of inconsistent instruction and development can not be undone in half an off-season.

      I’m anxious to see what lessons were learned by both Stephenson and Reed during their grossly ineffective initial foray to MLB and what adjustments they have made during this past off-season. Those adjustments and lessons could be physical, mechanical, mental and/or emotional. They both have exhibited the potential for top-of-the-rotation capability. They just need to be able to tap into that potential…easier said than done, obviously.

      • They were stated practically back to back to each other.

        I am interested in seeing what Stephenson and Reed can do, also.

    • No, that’s not at all what listening means. Listening means listening (I’m too lazy to think of a good synonym), considering and evaluating. You could decide, after listening, that what you heard was completely wrong.

  7. My takeaway is that RS recognizes he has a problem which needs to be corrected.

    Somewhere long ago and far away in what now would be called a life skills class, I recall being told that recognizing a problem exists and identifying what it is are the first two steps in fixing it.

    Thus it seems to me RS is headed in a good direction. Only time will tell us if the problem eventually gets fixed.

  8. Hmmmm, seems like being able to throw inside with a batter in the box is something you learn is little league. If he can’t do it by now, I doubt he can ever do it.

    • Not really… A lot of pitchers, even at high levels of HS aged competition and especially in NCAA ball, don’t pitch inside effectively, or sometimes at all. The aluminum bat changed a lot of things as you really just couldn’t get inside enough on a good hitter. There are no real consequences for a batter hitting that inside fastball with the aluminum bat and in fact many inside pitches get hit an awful long way.

      • Plus, the best pitchers in HS & even college often don’t have to hit their spots particularly well to get hitters out. They just blow people away with their fastball. The control pitchers don’t get drafted.

  9. Maybe some reverse psychology? Kick (motivate) him so hard he does’nt want to come back to play for DeShields (AAA) any longer. Do not know these two, just saying maybe?

  10. I didn’t have a problem with DD calling him out in public then, I still have no problem with it now. I will say to me it sounded like Stephenson was whining!. The first thing is Deshields I hope he didn’t do it out of frustration I hope that he was trying to motivate the young man to improve. When you have tried everything but calling him out in public maybe his pride will be the key and he can move forward. Then there is Stephenson if he was trying his best to correct his issues and they have remained or worsened since being drafted the Reds made a huge mistake! I think that if he felt in his heart that he had tried his best to do what was asked then he would have been off the hook pissed at Deshields, the fact he was noncommittal about it says a lot to me! He did show enough in the miniscule flashes last year I am not anywhere near ready to give up on him! I hope not only for this fans sake but for his that he has it figured out and is ready to move forward with what could be a fine career

  11. coachability. players that don’t listen tend to not grow, mature, develop. hope this isn’t the case with rob-steve. has to be a reason why DD felt rob-stele wasn’t absorbing the coaching input.

    • only wish Price had the guts to take the approach of DD in trying to create the culture of maximizing the execution of the fundamentals. kudos to DD for not just tolerating high end players, but instead aggressively try to mold them the right way.

  12. I have no problem at all with what DeShields said. Stephenson has always seemed headstrong to me and we all know how H Bailey was when he came up-aka/knows everything because he was a mega star in HS. Not everyone is this way but there are some who have always been coddled and told how great they are from age 5 on up and then when they get to professional ball, they suddenly see how hard it is, for the first time in their life.

    Sometimes they react positively by listening to their coaches and reaching out to more established players for advice/counsel.

    And others harden themselves and don’t accept coaching and constructive criticism, sometimes to the point that it severely limits or even costs them their career. And, finally, when they find themselves working as a greeter at WalMart or a salesman at Foot Locker, they wish that they would have been more receptive to coaching when they were given that opportunity. And, yes, they will probably have to work at Walmart or something similar because their immaturity that caused them to be dropped from the game will almost assuredly result in them blowing through their signing bonus in just a few short years.

    I hope Stephenson wakes up before he finds himself in this type of situation. Players like Colt Griffin, Jack Armstrong, Brien Taylor, and Todd Van Poppel, among others, have had their careers cut short or fail completely due to maturity issues. All were coddled pitchers who were forecast to make it big and they count only one All-Star appearance among the four (Armstrong in 1990).

    The Millenial generation, both in and outside of the sports world, seems to be, for the most part, extremely immature, coddled, lazy, and demanding. Unfortunately, some highly touted prospects in baseball certainly fall into this category.

    Personally, I think Stephenson eventually ends up in the bullpen. Another overhyped Reds pitching prospect that can’t develop his pitch arsenal as a starter. The Reds scouting and player development is still in need of a major overhaul.

    • Your assessments of Stephenson’s (and Bailey’s) personality traits lead one to assume that you know them both quite well and, probably, have significant psychological training. Your blanket dismissal of an entire generation, on the other hand, casts doubt and your entire thesis.

      • As you’ll notice from my original post, I used the term “for the most part,” so I am not making a blanket statement about an entire generation. But I am making a statement about the majority of people within that generation-somewhere 2/3-3/4 of the Millenial generation would fall into this category (coddled, spoiled, demanding, emotionally unstable, and not able to compartmentalize and handle adversity). Again, this is nothing more than my own personal beliefs and I am in no way trying to make a factual statement in this regard because personal beliefs and opinions are just that (beliefs) and nothing more.

        I also believe that it is probably more difficult than ever to be a coach/manager in any sport today compared to past generations and I really commend the coaches who, despite these obstacles, persevere in their efforts to help these young kids succeed even if they aren’t receptive to coaching or think they already have everything figured out. These minor league coaches get paid very little and the travel, especially at all levels below Triple-A, is very burdensome and tiring. So, I’d just like to take this chance to thank all these dedicated coaches who do everything they can to help these young men succeed, sometimes in spite of themselves.

        • Glad you clarified, SC, but you are stating your beliefs as though they were facts, so I hope that you will forgive my assumption.

        • Thanks, greenmtred (Vermont?)-good point. I might add that I really hope all the pitching prospects, including Stephenson, actually develop into strong pitchers for the Reds. I realize that some most likely will not develop along that path (per past statistics regarding prospects), but we can at least hope they do.

          Obviously, the Reds need the help. Unfortunately, John Lamb did not pan out (just too many hard-luck injuries) and hopefully the other two lefties from the KC trade for Cueto will (Finnegan and Reed). One other pitcher whose chances I really like is LHP Amir Garrett-he may become their top starter in time. I actually saw him play college basketball for St John’s in the Big East and as a 6’5″ forward he had quite a bit of potential in that sport, as well. But, fortunately for the Reds, he decided to concentrate on baseball after a coaching change at St John’s a few years ago.

          One other pitcher I have some hopes for is RHP Tyler Mahle. He has not yet gotten the level of publicity as some of the others, but I saw him pitch a few times in the minors and he is a thoughtful pitcher with a plan and also gets good movement on his pitches-sort of like a Kyle Hendriks from the Cubs. And, of course, the hardest throwers are always the ones who get recognized at first, so that’s probably why Mahle has not received as much recognition to this point.

          Great site, here-I am an avid Reds fan and really enjoy the articles/comments.

  13. Is he trying and can’t do it…or is he not listening because he thinks he knows better or is just uncoachable?? Either way, I think he is near the end of the road…time to take the turn to the MLB or take the bus home. Of course, the third option here is that our coaches are not very good.

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