E.A. Sports Today

Stephens added to Reds’ 40-man

Former Oxford pitcher gets the biggest break of his pro career as Reds protect him from being picked in next month’s Rule 5 Draft

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Jackson Stephens was just about to sit down for breakfast with his mom Friday morning when the phone rang. It was a call he was really glad he answered.

On the other end was the Cincinnati Reds’ farm director and he was calling with some career-changing news.

The Reds today added the former Oxford pitcher to their 40-man roster to protect him from being picked in next month’s Rule 5 Draft.

Of all the pitching prospects the Reds could have chosen to protect, Stephens was one of three minor-league pitchers with high upside arms among the seven minor-leaguers added to the roster.

“It means they believe in you and they think you’re going to be an asset hopefully in the future for the Cincinnati Reds’ major-league team,” Stephens said. “They think enough of you that they don’t want to get rid of you and don’t want another team to grab you.

“I feel like it’s more of a reward of the accomplishments you’ve done and you’ve put yourself out there to the fact you have worked hard and you have done this.

“Mainly they protected me and they wanted me to be a part of the Reds system, which is a really good accomplishment.”

Stephens was eligible to be protected because he was at the end of the five years of his signing. He was an 18th round pick in the 2012 draft.

The 22 year-old right-hander, now one of 22 pitchers on the Reds’ 40-man, was 8-11 with a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts for the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos this past Southern League All-Star season. He averaged 7.79 strikeouts per nine innings and had an overall 131-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He was the right-handed pitcher of the year in the Reds minor-league system this year.

He got off to a slow start when he first arrived in Pensacola, but he found a groove and his numbers quickly started coming down.

“I knew I was capable of pitching good,” he said. “I never felt like I was in a bad place. Even when people or I thought I was struggling numbers-wise I never felt like I was struggling because I was confidence enough the whole time I was OK. The main thing was figuring out how to pitch guys and learning on the fly and mainly adjusting to my strength over their strength.”

Under the provisions of Rule 5, major league teams must protect players on their 40-man rosters within three or four years of their original signing. Those left unprotected are available to other teams.

Now he’s likely headed to big-league spring training camp in Phoenix for the first time and What happens next depends on him.

“This is only the beginning,” said Wes Brooks, Stephens’ Oxford High School coach. “He can’t think about next spring. He has to concentrate on all of his ‘todays’ between now and then because today plus today plus today equals his career and his season, so he has to commit to his off-season training and report in February in the best shape of his life.

“He has to look at each day like he’s trying to win a job over and over, and even if he makes it to a major-league debut next year he has to keep that mentality each and every day.”

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