Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Under-the-Radar Breakout Candidates
Relief pitcher Robert Stephenson
Right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson is a former first-round pick. Stephenson was selectd 27th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2011 MLB Draft. However, he has never lived up to first-round draft pick expectations.
In his career Stephenson owns a 4.90 ERA and a 4.82 FIP in 312.0 innings pitched. Stephenson's 312.0 innings pitched has come in 211 appearances, 22 of which have been starts. He has not made a start since 2018.
Stephenson started the 2022 season with the Colorado Rockies. After struggling in his second season with the Rockies, he was designated for assignment in late August. This led to the Pittsburgh Pirates claiming him off waivers on August 27th.
After joining the Pirates Stephenson would put together one of the best months of his MLB career. The 29-year-old righty posted a 3.38 ERA and a 2.81 FIP in 13.1 innings pitched with the Pirates. He walked 2.0% of batters faced, stuck out 36.0% of opposing batters, and allowed just two home runs (0.68 HR/9).
Stephenson has the stuff to be a very good major league reliever. Last season, he ranked in the 85th percentile of baseball in fastball spin rate, 91st percentile in fastball velocity, and in the 93rd percentile of chase rate.
His slider developed into a plus pitch during the 2022 season. Opposing batters hit just .170 off the pitch, to go with a .357 slugging percentage. The pitch also had a very, very strong 44.4% whiff rate. Stephenson's slider is a plus pitch, his fastball has the potential to be that as well. If that happens, Stephenson could quietly become one of the best relievers in the Pirate bullpen this season.