The Braves have signed right-handed pitcher Jackson Stephens to a minor league deal, according to Alfonso E. Saer Gomez and David O’Brien of The Athletic. (Twitter links.) As noted by both tweets, the 27-year-old was recently awarded Pitcher of the Year in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Stephens was selected by the Reds in the 18th round of the 2012 draft. Working primarily as a starter, he worked his way up the minor league ranks and was able to make his MLB debut in 2017, throwing 25 innings over four starts and three relief appearances. In 2018, he made 29 more appearances, all out of the bullpen, throwing 38 1/3 innings. He hasn’t been able to crack the big leagues since, making his 63 1/3 innings over those two campaigns the total of his big league experience thus far. He has a career ERA of 4.83, strikeout rate of 19% and walk rate of 8.5%.
In 2019, he logged 84 innings in Triple-A and then elected free agency after he was outrighted off the roster at the end of the year. After missing out on 2020, he spent 2021 with Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos of the Mexican League. He logged 65 innings there, with an ERA of 4.98. Shortly thereafter, he joined Cardenales de Lara and had perhaps his best run of success to date. In 49 1/3 innings over 14 games, including nine starts, he struck out 44 hitters, walking only 10, putting up an ERA of 1.82. As mentioned, he was awarded the league’s Pitcher of the Year honors.
Stephens doesn’t have much on his track record that can match that recent showing in Venezuela, either in the majors or the upper minors. However, he’s only 27 years old, turning 28 in May. For the Braves, there’s no harm in bringing him aboard and seeing if that recent uptick in his performance is due to some sort of adjustment that could be sustainable.