Although opportunity may determine how Tyler Stephenson fares in fantasy for 2021, his sample in 2020 put him on the radar as a stash candidate in two-catcher leagues with eyes on the future. Cincinnati also cleared a path to playing time letting Curt Casali leave via free agency to San Francisco, so Stephenson should break camp with the Reds.

A very limited sample in 2020 makes assessing Stephenson difficult, especially given only one season in Double-A, but it's apparent he brings some power upside to the table:

Stephenson only played in eight games last year with the Reds but scored four runs, launched two home runs driving in six with a .294/.400/.647 slash line over 20 plate appearances. His small sample looks tremendous on paper. However, Stephenson also owned a ten percent walk rate, not bad but it accompanies a strikeout percent of 45. For our purposes, one needs to ignore his robust .353 isolated power (ISO) and .437 weighted on-base average (wOBA). Hope lies in Stephenson's swinging strike percentage of nine and O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percent of only 13 within his limited sample.

Noting catchers’ upside in fantasy usually occurs later in their development due to learning how to handle a staff, Stephenson's minor league track record may provide some more insight. Focus on his walk and strikeout percentages along with his ratio of ground outs to air outs (GO/AO):

  • 2017 Stephenson Single-A: 80 games, 295 at-bats, 39 runs, six home runs, 50 RBI, two stolen bases; .278/.374/.414, 12.6 BB%, 16.7 K%, .136 ISO, .362 wOBA, 1.39 GO/AO
  • 2018 Stephenson High-A: 109 games, 388 at-bats, 60 runs, 11 home runs, 59 RBI, one stolen base; .250/.338/.392, 10 BB%, 21.8 K%, .142 ISO, .339 wOBA, 0.93 GO/AO
  • 2019 Stephenson Double-A: 89 games, 312 at-bats, 47 runs, six home runs, 44 RBI, 10.2 BB%, 16.5 K%, .125 ISO, .361 wOBA, 0.66 GO/AO

Mining the numbers, Stephenson's double-digit walk rate at each level provides hope he carries over a solid approach at the plate in the majors. He's also been producing fewer ground ball outs in each of these seasons while getting more batted balls into the air via fly balls and line drives. If he's going to hit for power, this needs to continue. Tempering expectations for Stephenson should pay off for fantasy players, but those in dynasty leagues may get a solid return in the second half of 2021.

Despite the limited sample last year, Stephenson's Statcast results can be explored. He generated eight batted ball events with one barrel (12.5 percent), an 89.5 MPH average exit velocity and 50 percent hard hit rate. His sweet spot percentage mirrored his hard hit percent at 50 but the expected numbers based on quality of contact warn some migration to the mean. Stephenson's expected batting average (xBA) of .206, expected slugging (xSLG) of .405 and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) of .308 reside well below his actual results from his major league debut.

Gleaning as much information as possible, Stephenson possesses the ability to understand the strike zone. His 33.7 swing percentage sits over ten points below the league average (46.6) while his whiff percent (26.7) remains close to his peers in the majors (24.5 league rate). Hitting in Cincinnati benefits Stephenson's burgeoning power, especially if he continues to reduce ground balls in his batted ball profile.

Viewing his projections, playing time may ultimately decide how Stephenson performs in fantasy. Here are his forecast from three different systems:

  • Stephenson 2021 ZiPS projection: 101 games, 390 plate appearances, 45 runs, ten home runs, 45 RBI; .229/.308/.362, 8.5 BB%, 26.7 K%, .133 ISO, .291 wOBA
  • Stephenson 2021 ATC projection: 63 games, 234 plate appearances, 26 runs, six home runs, 26 RBI; .251/.331/.397, 9.2 BB%, 25 K%, .146 ISO, .319 wOBA
  • Stephenson 2021 THE BAT X projection: 49 games, 202 plate appearances, 24 runs, six home runs, 23 RBI; .245/.315/.404, 8.2 BB%, 24 K%, .159 ISO, .312 wOBA

Until more results in the majors happen, assessing Stephenson remains a slippery slope. Heeding the projections, Stephenson could hit double-digit home runs but potentially needs 300 plate appearances to accomplish the feat. For now, plan on Stephenson as a backup at catcher in shallower leagues but he could be a sneaky second catcher in deeper formats with upside. There's a chance Stephenson hits himself into more playing time with the Reds as the year progresses so be patient with the young backstop. If he takes a step forward in his power in the second half, he projects to be a strong option in 2022.


Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen

THE BAT X courtesy of Derek Carty