This is one in a series of stories looking at members of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster.
As soon as Robert Stephenson was selected in the MLB Draft, there was some pretty substantial hype with the right-handed pitcher, as is the case with most first-round picks.
Stephenson was selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the 27th overall pick in 2011 out of high school in his native California.
For five consecutive seasons as a minor leaguer, Stephenson was considered a Top 100 prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline, peaking at 19th overall prior to the 2014 season.
Stephenson eventually made his big league debut in 2016 as a starting pitcher but was soon after moved to primarily a bullpen role the following season before becoming a full-time reliever in 2019.
Stephenson spent five years with the Reds and was largely inconsistent, finishing his tenure with the team with a 5.15 ERA in 104 appearances.
The Reds shipped Stephenson to the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2021 season, where he posted an impressive 3.13 ERA with 52 strikeouts across 46 innings of work.
His success in Colorado did not carry into 2022, and he was eventually designated for assignment by the club at the end of August.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, with their bullpen in flux for most of the season, quickly scooped up the 29-year-old and the move paid off.
Though he only made 13 appearances with the Pirates to end the season, Stephenson passed his first impression with flying colors.
The right-hander posted a 3.38 ERA and an even more impressive 2.81 FIP. Stephenson racked up 18 punchouts and only walked a single batter in his 13.1 frames.
Opponents only managed a .213 batting average and a .649 OPS against him while with Pittsburgh.
Heading into 2023, a once low-risk gamble on a waiver claim now has a pretty important role with the Pirates’ bullpen.
If Stephenson is able to replicate the success he had to end last season, he could find himself pitching in high-leverage situations and the later innings of games in Pittsburgh.
Outside of David Bednar, most members of the Pirates’ current bullpen have some question marks attached to them.
The Pirates are hoping that the success of the former first-rounder last year wasn’t a mirage and that he can be an impactful reliever for the club over the course of the entire season.