In 2015, his senior year of high school, Stephenson committed to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship.
Tyler's older sister, Morgan, was a swimmer, so he took up that sport during his senior year of high school. He also played basketball for his high school, and baseball, of course. But not on the gridiron.
"I never played football," the 6-feet-4, 225 pounder said. "It was just baseball. It just come out (that way). My dad never played baseball, and my mom was in the band.
"They said when I was young, it was baseball. It just came natural. I was 6 or 7 years old. My mom said the (Little League) coach said they need a catcher, and I said, 'OK, I'll catch.' I thought the gear was cool."
Tyler was a 2014 Underclass High Honorable Mention All-America ... No. 1-ranked catcher in Georgia ... No. 9-ranked catcher nationally ... No. 12-ranked player in Georgia ... No. 99-ranked player nationally by Baseball America.
June 2015: Stephenson was the Reds' first-round pick(#11 overall), out of Kennesaw Mountain High School in Georgia. And he signed for $3,141,600, via scout John Poloni.
Tyler said the adjustment to pro ball wasn't too much of a problem because of the high level of competition he faced growing up in Georgia, one of the major prospect-producing states in the U.S.
"I think that's helped me a lot because a grew up facing really good talent," Stephenson said.
In 2015, Billings manager Dick Schofield pointed out that Stephenson hasn’t yet gotten his “man muscles.” Provided he doesn’t grow too much larger, Stephenson should be able to stay behind the plate because of his athletic body.
In 2016, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Stephenson as the 4th-best prospect in the Reds farm system. He was at #10 in both2017 and 2018. He was at #6 in the offseason before 2019 spring training. He was back up to #4 in the winters before both 2020 and 2021 spring camps opened.
Swimming is a big part of offseason workouts for Tyler.
Oct. 2019: Stephenson won the Arizona Fall League's Stenson Award. The sportsmanship award is presented annually to the Arizona Fall League player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work, and leadership. The manager and coaching staff from each of the six AFL teams nominate one player for the award. This year, Stephenson, the Reds’ No. 7 prospect, represented all of those qualities and more.
2019 season: The 2015 first-round pick got hit by the injury bug quite a bit during the first stages of his career, but he’s going to look back at 2019 as the year it all started to click. After a solid regular season in Double-A, the backstop had a very strong AFL campaign (.347/.372/.410 in 49 at-bats) to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.
- Jan 13, 2020: Tyler Stephenson knows he’s inching ever so close to reaching the big leagues. More pieces seemed to fall into place over the past year, setting him up to achieve his dream in 2020.
First, Stephenson had the best hitting season of his pro career at Double-A Chattanooga. That was followed by a sensational Arizona Fall League season and being added to Cincinnati’s 40-man roster for the first time. Finally, the 23-year-old attended the Rookie Career Development Program, which was held in Miami in a joint effort by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
“Being on the verge, hopefully, of being called up … I think the realistic chance of getting that call is higher than any other year,” Stephenson said last week. “I think that’s the ultimate goal—break with the big league team in spring. If I don’t have that mentality, I’m kind of in the wrong game. Going into Spring Training, that’s the full mentality I have.”
Cincinnati already has Major League veterans Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali forming its catching tandem, with utility player Kyle Farmer as the third catcher. But Stephenson is in position to be the long-term future, if he’s not the short-term one out of camp.
Stephenson, who is ranked as the Reds’ No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, batted .285/.372/.410 with six homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games last season for Chattanooga. In 13 more games in the AFL, he batted .347/.418/.490 with seven doubles.
Although a larger-sized catcher at 6-foot-4, Stephenson has drawn good reviews from scouts for his defensive work. He’s considered to have good hands and flexibility at the position, and he’s still working well with his progress on game-calling skills and throwing mechanics.
The 11th overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft, Stephenson’s first two full seasons in the Minor Leagues were marred by injuries and poor performance. He had to repeat at Class A Dayton in 2016-2017 before moving to Class A Advanced Daytona in 2018.
“I had a concussion and I had a wrist surgery, a sprained ligament in my thumb. You name it, I kind of had it,” Stephenson said. “I’ve been blessed that the past two seasons, I’ve been healthy. Looking back on this past year, I learned a lot and made the jump to Double-A. Some stuff started to click, and I made it to the Fall League and continued that progression. I had a great opportunity there. It was probably one of the highlight memories of my Minor League career. It was awesome.”
All 30 Major League organizations sent players to the Rookie Career Development Program. All are considered to be on the cusp of reaching the big leagues, and there are a few who have already made it.
“It’s a great opportunity just to be selected,” Stephenson said of the RCDP. “I know a couple of guys who did it last year, and they talked highly of it. Just to be able to represent the Reds, take that next step and learn some more info, it’s a great honor.” (M Sheldon - MLB.com - Jan 13, 2020)
MLB debut (July 27, 2020): Stephenson joined a couple of short lists as he went deep in his first career at-bat. While few players in all of baseball have homered in their first trip to the plate, just three Reds have ever done it. And Stephenson was the first to do so since Ted Tappe in 1950.
2020 Season: His debut on July 27 was the only time he would see action in the Major Leagues in the first six weeks of the year. He returned to the team after spending time at Prasco Park with the Reds at their alternate site on September 10.
A few days later, Tyler provided some pinch hitting heroics as he came out of the dugout to pinch hit for Shogo Akiyama with a runner on in the bottom of the 7th of a double-header in a tie game. And he smashed a walk-off home run against the Pirates on the second pitch of the at-bat.
In total, Stephenson played in only 8 games and had 20 total trips to the plate during the 2020 season. What he did in those 20 plate appearances was crush the ball. The catcher posted a .294/.400/.647 line with two of his five hits going over the fence. (Doug Gray - January 22, 2021)
Aug 10, 2021: Tyler smoked a liner off Braves reliever Richard Rodríguez in the eighth inning. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, though, was in line with the ball’s trajectory, caught it easily, and nearly doubled up Tyler Naquin at first base.
The lineout left Stephenson with an 0-for-3 line in the series opener at Truist Park, a line that could’ve sunk the rookie catcher’s spirits. But really, there wasn’t much that could bring down Stephenson as he played his first game in his hometown as a Major Leaguer.
Stephenson grew up in the Atlanta area and was a Braves fan as a kid. He attended Kennesaw Mountain High School. As someone with roots around the city, Stephenson’s homecoming resulted in plenty of fans showing up to support the 24-year-old.
“Just like batting practice, my family was all there, they made it early,” Stephenson said postgame. “I had a whole bunch of support from my high school, which was awesome. People that I haven't seen since I graduated just because they went off to college, and obviously, I've been traveling around throughout the Minor Leagues.”
Stephenson was on the taxi squad when Cincinnati was swept in the NL Wild Card Series in 2020, barely missing out on making his Atlanta debut that season. However, with no fans in the stands and stricter COVID protocols not allowing him to spend time with his family, playing his first game at Truist Park back then may not have felt as special as it did.
“I was telling somebody that I think I was more nervous tonight in my first at-bat than I was in my debut,” Stephenson said. “Now granted, we obviously didn't have fans and stuff [last season], but it was truly something special. I'll cherish this for a long time. It was fun.”
As Stephenson took batting practice, he could hear his family cheering for him. As he warmed up with catching coach J.R. House, he could hear some old friends yelling at him. And as Stephenson warmed up starter Sonny Gray in the bullpen, even more buddies were calling his name. Despite eventually going hitless after reaching on an error and a walk, that support Stephenson received from his “home” crowd made the experience one he won’t soon forget.
“Sure enough, getting in there and then going up first at-bat, my heart rate was just probably sitting at 200,” Stephenson said. “It was insane. It was all worth it, though.” (R Herrera - MLB.com - Aug 12, 2021)
August 12, 2021: As Tyler rounded second base following his ninth-inning solo home run in the Reds’ 12-3 win over the Braves, a huge smile broke out across his face.
The hometown kid, finishing the first series of his big league career in front of his friends and family in Atlanta, had just gotten likely the loudest reaction for a Cincinnati hit from the crowd at Truist Park. As the ball left the yard in center, Stephenson could hear his cheering section right behind the Reds’ dugout going nuts, and when he finally got back to the dugout, his teammates tried talking him into going out for one more round of applause.
“They were trying to get me a curtain call—as an away team,” Stephenson said. “They loved it. They loved the entertainment and the cheering section. It was about mid-game today that I had to tell them to relax because it was just kind of getting to me a little bit, but it was funny.” (Herrera - mlb.com)
2021 Season: Stephenson was named as the top rookie catcher. He was tied with Arizona’s Daulton Varsho in WAR (Fangraphs version), while topping the rookie catcher leaderboard in runs, average, on-base percentage, OPS, walks, doubles, and hits. In his 402 plate appearances, Stephenson hit .286/.366/.431 with 21 doubles and 10 home runs. Behind the plate, he threw out 19% of opposing baserunners.
- 2022 Season: It's going to be hard to put a grade on Tyler Stephenson's sophomore campaign, primarily because the Cincinnati Reds catcher was sidelined with injuries throughout the 2022 season.
Stephenson suffered a concussion, broken thumb, and broken clavicle in 2022. The Reds backstop was battered and bruised this past season and has some throughout the fanbase concerned about his future.
While some folks throughout Reds Country want to see Stephenson move from behind the plate to first base, that doesn't seem to be in the cards heading into next season. But let's hit the pause button on he future for a moment and put a grade on Stephenson's 2022 season.
Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson suffered through an injury-plagued season.After watching Tucker Barnhart traded during the offseason, Tyler Stephenson knew that he was QB1 heading into the 2022 season. The second-year player was lauded by the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff, and Stephenson's defense seemed much improved from his rookie season.
After gunning down 19% of would-be base stealers in 2021, Stephenson threw out 27% of opposing runners who were trying to swipe a bag. After allowing seven passed last season, Stephenson allowed just two balls to allude his glove in 2022, albeit in about the half the number of games played.
At the dish is where Stephenson excels. The 26-year-old hit .319/.372/.482 and racked up six home runs and 35 RBIs in just 166 at-bats during the 2022 season. One has to assume that had Stephenson been healthy, he'd have been selected to the All-Star Game.
Honestly, the only flaw in Tyler Stephenson's 2022 campaign was his inability to stay healthy. (Drew Koch - Oct. 8, 2022)
|Birth City:||Atlanta, GA|
|Draft:||Reds #1 - 2015 - Out of high school (GA)|
Stephenson has solid righthanded power potential. He is big and he is strong. He has a 55 hit tool, and should grow into 55 power.
Tyler fits the model of the bat-first catcher. His swing is quite compact for someone with long arms, and he has toned down the bat waggle and leg kick he had early in his pro career. The changes may sap his power to a minor extent, but they have helped him make more consistent contact. Stephenson recognizes spin well for a young hitter and altogether shows the attributes of an above-average hitter with average power. (J.J. Cooper - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2021)
Stephenson has moved up the rankings after he batted .285/.372/.410 with six homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games in 2019 for Chattanooga. In 13 more games in the Arizona Fall League, he hit .347/.418/.490 with seven doubles. Much of the improvement is credited to his learning how to shorten his swing and improved strength as he continued to grow into his 6-foot-4 frame. Stephenson has demonstrated higher exit velocities when making contact. (Spring 2020)
Tyler's swing starts with a minor leg kick leading into a modest load of the hands before driving the barrel through the zone, producing loud contact. He rarely chases out of the strike zone and works his walks. (Spring, 2020)
Stephenson’s natural swing path takes the ball to right and right-center field, and he shows an ability to cover the plate. Scouts like his advanced approach and think he shows at least average hitting potential. Stephenson will have to work on pulling inside pitches to maximize his average power. (Spring, 2017)
Tyler has some length in his swing and has some things to figure out at the plate. But he stays balanced in his swing and has an advanced hitting approach and strike zone awareness. His natural swing drives the ball to right-center, but he needs to incorporate his lower half more in order to get to his pull power.
He makes good contact, but he does it with a short hand load that doesn't generate leverage. But, you can wait for his bat to show up.
He has quick hands that allow him to make adjustments at the plate. Stephenson has become a confident hitter who controls the zone well. His physical strength produces raw power that should eventually translate into 15-20 dingers per season.
Stephenson focuses on maintaining his balance and control within his batting stance. He has almost no load, along with a lone-drive stroke that emphasizes contact more than pop.
2019 Season: The 2015 first-round pick got hit by the injury bug quite a bit during the first stages of his career, but he’s going to look back at 2019 as the year it all started to click. After a solid regular season in Double-A, the backstop had a very strong AFL campaign (.347/.372/.410 in 49 at-bats) to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. A big follow-up campaign should vault him onto the top catching prospects list and have him ready for Cincinnati.
2020 Season: The 24-year-old Stephenson, Cincinnati’s No. 4 prospect and MLB's No. 96 prospect overall per MLB Pipeline, impressed at the club's alternate site and during his limited big league opportunities.
He went 5-for-17 (.294) with two home runs. Stephenson has also made improvements with his defense and game calling. With veteran Curt Casali being non-tendered, the righthanded-hitting Stephenson will likely be paired with lefty-hitting veteran Tucker Barnhart in 2021.
“He stepped in last year and got some good experience, had some success,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s really developed. He’s matured just, kind of, right in front of your eyes the last couple of years. He’s going to get some playing time for sure. He stepped in last year and got some good experience, had some success. He’s really developed . . . he’s ready. And I think having the combination of him and Tucker is a nice situation to have.” (M Sheldon - MLB.com - Dec 28, 2020)
- 2022 Season: Stephenson missed 107 games last season with injuries, including the entire second half because of a broken right clavicle.
When he was healthy, he was Cincinnati’s best hitter in 2022 (.854 OPS in 50 games). He can provide power from the right side and was often a clutch hitter as a rookie in '21. Now that the club has signed two free agent catchers to back him up (Curt Casali and Luke Maile), Stephenson can be fresher and still be in the lineup every day. On days he doesn’t catch, he could be the DH or play first base. If Stephenson can avoid injuries, the opportunity to have a breakout year is there. (Mark Sheldon - MLB.com - Dec 26, 2022)
Tyler is a strong armed catcher and occasional right fielder. Though less nimble than a smaller catcher, he does fine. Though mobility is a concern, he has improve his receiving and framing and gets a near-average 45 grade for his defense.
Stephenson’s pitch framing and blocking behind the plate have improved to average, but his game-calling needs work. His long arm action on his throws takes away from his plus arm strength. (J.J. Cooper - BAPH - Spring, 2021)
Already well-regarded defensively because of his good hands, flexibility and being a good target, Stephenson took steps in 2019 to improve his pitch-framing skills while throwing more consistently. All of those tools will have to continue to make strides, but after battling several injuries over his first two years of pro ball, he has shown good health and the signs of just about being close to big league ready, with the ceiling of being a Major League starting backstop. (Spring 2020)
Stephenson's arm grades out as plus (60 grade), even though his footwork and release can hinder his throwing from time to time. He doesn't always get a good release. (Spring, 2020)
Stephenson is big for a catcher, but he is an average defender. He is very quiet behind the plate and frames pitches well thanks to his strong, soft hands. There was some concern about his size, but he seems to move very well back there,
Tyler needs to improve his footwork and lateral movement behind the plate. But he is flexible and works on maintaining his agility.
"As long as I stay flexible enough and take care of my body, there should not be a size limit to anything" Stephenson says. "I've never had any leg problems."
As a long-limbed catcher, he has to work to maintain the flexibility to be an adequate receiver.
He has plus arm strength. And once he gets his footwork down, he has the potential to be an above-average defender who throws out a lot of attempting base-thieves.
Stephenson consistently showed pop times of 1.9 seconds during the summer of 2014, prior to his senior year of high school.
In 2017, Tyler only threw out 21 percent of base-stealers in the Midwest League.
In 2018, Stephenson threw out 24 percent of base-stealers in the Florida State League.
In 2019, he nailed just 26 percent of base thieves.
Tyler does a fine job of framing pitches. He will have to work hard to maintain flexibility and remain light on his feet.
- Aug 2021: Reds catchers Tucker Barnhart and Tyler have combined for 1,079 innings caught this season without making an error. Barnhart and Stephenson rank first and second, respectively, in the Major Leagues for fielding percentage. (Sheldon - mlb.com - 8/17/2021)
- In 2021 with the Reds, Tyler caught 78 games, played 23 games at first base, and 1 game in left field. (Baseball-Reference.com - Nov 2021)
- Tyler is an excellent catcher with a great arm. He can reach 90 mph off the mound.
Stephenson has been calling his own game since his freshman year of high school.
“I’ve caught my whole life and I feel comfortable with it,” Tyler said upon being chosen by the Reds in June, 2015. “I feel like I’ve established I can do it and do it on the next level.”
When you see him down in a catching position, he does do a very good job of getting down really low and having that nice, solid low center of gravity.
Really, the great equalizer for him is his hands—his hands are beautiful. He has very quick, very agile hands.
Spring 2015: Stephenson missed a few weeks this spring due to an oblique injury, but played well in his return and subsequently shot up draft boards, even generating some buzz as a potential first overall pick.
April 26-May 10, 2016: Tyler was on the D.L. with a concussion when a ball caromed off a post during a soft-toss drill and hit him in the head.
June 1-July 13, 2016: Stephenson was on the DL with an injured left wrist.
July 23-August 5, 2016: A sprained left wrist put Tyler back on the D.L.
August 14, 2016: Stephenson was on the D.L. with a bone spur problem in his left wrist, again. Surgery was required.
“It was tough,” Stephenson said after the 2016 season. “Looking back at the season, I probably learned more about myself and the game of baseball than I would have playing. I think that’s going to help me down the road, kind of dealing with all the adversity. The ups and downs I had this year helped me grow as a player.”
July 19, 2017: Stephenson suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb and missed the rest of the season. The injury came while sliding into second base.
Sept 20-22, 2021: Tyler was on the IL.
April 20-May 3, 2022: Catcher Tyler Stephenson was placed on the seven-day concussion IL on April 20, following a home-plate collision with the Padres’ Luke Voit the previous day.
May 15, 2022: Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson received positive news when follow-up medical tests showed no signs of a concussion from being hit on the mask by a hard foul ball during the 3-1 loss to the Pirates.
“He’s cleared. He’ll be available to pinch-hit today or anything else we need him for,” Reds manager David Bell said.
June 9-July 9, 2022: Stephenson was on the IL. He will miss up to six weeks with a fractured right thumb.
June 22, 2022: Stephenson had the protective cast removed from his right thumb and was cleared to begin some light baseball activity. A foul tip fractured Stephenson’s thumb and he is expected to miss four to six weeks.
- July 22-Nov 8, 2022: Tyler was on the IL. Only three batters into the second half came a potentially season-ending injury for Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. A foul tip hit near Stephenson's shoulder and he suffered a broken right clavicle.