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.