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February 24, 2005

by Fabian

Jason Stephens, 20, RHP

Jason Stephens will always be linked to, and under intense scrutiny as a result, the names Tyler Clippard and Mark Prior, at least in my eyes. When a Yankee official invoked Prior’s name following the drafting and signing of Stephens and then a Baseball America correspondent spoke more highly of Stephens following his and Clippard’s ’03 debuts, that was set in stone. While I don’t have much of a problem dismissing the Yankee claim as organizational hyperbole, the Clippard vs. Stephens issue is one that is more critical as it is part of the larger issue of stats versus scouting, which will often be the difference between my rating of a prospect and how others view the same prospect. Clippard’s dominant ’03 performance was not enough to overcome Stephens’ mediocre one, and that is perhaps a bit generous, all because Stephens projected better. In addition to being worlds better statistically, I also felt the relative projectabilities were debatable so clearly, in my mind, Clippard was the better prospect. But, enough of that, I’ll try to evaluate Stephens independent of Clippard, admittedly one of my favorite prospects.

In ’04, the Yankees sent Stephens back to the GCL, unsatisfied with what he had done there in ’03. As is often the case when repeating a level, Stephens got better, but was dominant, which I find alarming. Stephens best statistical indicator was also his greatest asset from a scouting perspective. In 48.1 innings, Stephens limited opponents to 10 walks. Unfortunately, while opponents found it difficult to work a walk against the RH from Ohio, they did not find it overly difficult to get a hit as they posted a .279 batting average. As always, this may be slightly bloated due to playing fields, inexperience of fielders, or some other aspect out of Stephens control, but my feeling is that it is a product of a pitcher who consistently finds the strike zone, but lacks the overpowering stuff to consistently fool hitters, at this point.

His aforementioned stuff would consist of both a 4 and 2 seam fastball, in addition to a curveball and changeup. The fastball currently runs from 87-90, but should get better and his curveball is supposedly very good. Stephens has also toyed around with a splitter in the past, according to Baseball America.

In 2005, Stephens is currently slated to be a member of what looks like a loaded Charleston rotation/team. I expect him to spend the whole year there and would be surprised if he puts together a K/9 above 8 or H/9 below 9. Rather, I expect him to continue to showcase good control and be a solid, perhaps around average, performer at the level as he begins his trek through the Yankee system. Perhaps some of his projectability will kick in and boost the speed with which he goes through the system.

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