The Braves announced this evening they’ve selected Jackson Stephens onto the big league roster. Mark Bowman of MLB.com first noted that Stephens had reported to the team. In a corresponding move, reliever Jacob Webb has been designated for assignment.
Stephens returns to the big leagues for the first time in four seasons. The 6’2″ right-hander broke into the majors in 2017 with the Reds, pitching 63 1/3 innings over two seasons. He posted just a 4.83 ERA with a subpar 19% strikeout rate and 36.7% ground-ball percentage, then spent the 2019 campaign in Triple-A. After electing minor league free agency, Stephens was unsigned for two seasons before returning in the Venezuelan Winter League last offseason.
The Alabama native starred in Venezuela, working to a 1.82 ERA in 49 1/3 innings en route to the league’s Pitcher of the Year award. The Braves were impressed enough by his form to add him on a minor league deal, and he worked his way back to the highest level after a lone outing with Triple-A Gwinnett. Stephens had worked almost exclusively as a reliever during his final couple seasons in the Reds system, but he pitched out of the rotation in Venezuela and worked six innings as a starter during his lone outing with the Stripers.
Atlanta selected prospect Bryce Elder to start tonight’s game, making his MLB debut in the process. Whether Elder will take a permanent rotation spot moving forward isn’t clear, and Stephens could be an option both for some stray starts or multi-inning relief work. The 27-year-old is out of minor league option years. Now that the Braves have brought him up to the majors, he has to stick on the active roster or be designated for assignment and made available to other clubs.
That’s the fate in which Webb now finds himself. The righty worked a career-high 34 1/3 innings with the World Series-winning club last season, his third straight campaign at the MLB level. He posted an excellent 1.06 ERA in 44 appearances over his first two seasons, but he missed significant time in both years. In 2019, Webb went down in August with a season-ending elbow impingement. The following year, he missed the first month and a half of the shortened schedule because of a shoulder strain.
Webb finally stayed healthy last season and managed decent results, pitching to a 4.19 ERA with a slightly below-average 21.6% strikeout rate. That belies an excellent 15.6% swinging strike percentage, however, as Webb has missed bats at a quality rate in all three of his MLB seasons. Atlanta had optioned Webb to Gwinnett to open the season, but he has yet to get in a game with the Stripers. He’s in his final option year, but another team could take a flier on him via waivers over the coming days given his decent track record.