1:25pm: The Reds have announced the move, with Kolozsvary being recalled to take Stephenson’s placed on the roster.
8:35am: The Reds will place catcher Tyler Stephenson on the 7-day concussion injured list this morning, tweets Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Stephenson suffered a concussion in a collision play at the plate with Padres first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit last night (video link via MLB.com)
The play itself has become a source of some controversy in the aftermath, with Reds fans and several Reds players feeling there was ill intent behind Voit’s slide. Padres fans, players and manager Bob Melvin, naturally, have opined that Voit didn’t have much of an alternative.
“The ball takes him right into Luke,” Melvin told reporters after the game (video link via Bally Sports San Diego). “There’s nowhere to go, and I think Luke was just trying to protect himself, putting his hands up. I think they got it right.” Voit, of course, insists that he “wasn’t trying to take [Stephenson] out or anything” and added that he hopes Stephenson will be all right.
Reds skipper David Bell said after the game that he “didn’t have a problem with the slide” but called it a “scary” and “helpless” feeling when a manager sees one of his players laid out and injured in that manner (link via Mark Sheldon of MLB.com).
Reds left fielder Tommy Pham, meanwhile, told reporters that the slide was “dirty as [expletive].” Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer, a former catcher, said after the game that he’s “not too happy about the slide,” adding that it’s “not too often you a runner slide and grab someone’s head … you’re usually trying to reach for the bag, and maybe that’s what he was trying to do, but after looking at the replay, it looked like a wrestling move to Tyler’s head and snapped it down” (video link via Bally Sports Cincinnati). “I’ve never really seen someone’s hands go to a catcher’s head on a slide,” Farmer continued.
Regardless of where your thoughts land on the slide by Voit, the relay throw, and the postgame comments from both teams, the end result is the same. Stephenson will be away from the Reds for at least a week. The hope is that he’ll quickly clear concussion protocol and be able to return in short order, though concussions of course are tricky injuries that often have lingering effects.
The 25-year-old Stephenson, selected with the No. 11 overall draft pick back in 2015, has gone from top prospect to Cincinnati’s clear everyday catcher. His performance in 2020-21 was strong enough that the Reds had zero hesitation in trading stalwart catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers early in the 2021-22 offseason, and Stephenson has picked up right where he left off at the plate. In 37 plate appearances this year, he’s batted .267/.378/.467 with a pair of homers, raising his career batting line to a stout .285/.368/.443 with 14 home runs in 459 plate appearances. That’s well above-average production for any player (116 wRC+), but it’s among the best in the league, on a rate basis, among catchers.
Defensively, Stephenson has been sound. He’s 4-for-9 in throwing out base thieves this season (44%), bringing his career rate to 25% (just a percentage point below league average). He’s drawn above-average framing marks from each of Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, with Prospectus adding that he’s been about average in terms of blocking pitches in the dirt.
With Stephenson sidelined for the time being, the Reds seem likely to turn to Aramis Garcia as their top option behind the dish. Who will back him up remains an open question. Double-A catcher Mark Kolozsvary, a member of last year’s Team USA Olympic club, is on the 40-man roster but has gotten out to a slow start in Chattanooga. The Reds recently signed veteran Sandy Leon to a minor league contract as well, and if the team’s preference is for Kolozsvary to continue getting everyday at-bats rather than playing sparingly on the big league bench, it could be that Leon is quickly called to the MLB roster.
Whatever route the team takes, Stephenson’s loss is a huge blow to a team that has struggled immensely to score runs in 2022. Cincinnati ranks 25th in the Majors in runs scored, and they have more combined plate appearances than all five of the teams behind them (some of whom have had multiple postponements on the year). From a rate standpoint, the Reds’ offense has been far and away the worst in the league. Reds batters have combined for a gruesome .178/.250/.286 batting line, and the resulting 52 wRC+ is a full nine points lower than the second-worst club (Arizona). Stephenson has been one of the team’s only productive hitters, but he’ll now likely be replaced in the lineup by Garcia, a career .218/.255/.371 hitter in 214 Major League plate appearances.