We had heard that the Cincinnati Reds had planned to use Tyler Stephenson at first base and designated hitter along with time behind the plate during the offseason. How all of that would break down wasn’t quite clear, even after the team signed two other catchers to big league deals with the idea that it would help keep Stephenson in the batters box more at other positions.
Today we got a much more detailed plan from Reds manager David Bell. The team plans to have Stephenson catch about 65 games this season, as first reported by Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Things are broken down in 10-day stretches that, if things go as planned, he’ll spend four days behind the plate in that time. He will spend another three days as the teams designated hitter, and then two of those days at first base. There seems to be a day off built in there, too – whether that comes simply because the team has a day off or he just gets a day off.
There are some tradeoffs with this plan. Tyler Stephenson’s bat at first base and at designated hitter isn’t nearly as valuable as it is at catcher. But having his bat in the lineup no matter what position it’s at is going to help the Reds because there’s probably a decent chance that he’s going to be the best hitter on the team. Of course on days when he’s not catching it means that one of Curt Casali or Luke Maile will be behind the plate and their bats will be in the lineup, and those two may be the worst two hitters on the team. The chances they’ll be as bad at the plate as the non-Stephenson catchers were in 2022 are slim-and-none, but they both are coming off of very poor seasons at the plate.
Plans don’t always go as expected, though. Injuries can come into play. Poor performance can come into play. And that doesn’t have to be for Tyler Stephenson, either. Joey Votto’s health to start the season isn’t entirely known at this point, for example, which could mean there’s more time needed at first base. If one of the backup catchers has an injury it could mean that Stephenson has to catch a little more often if the 4th catching option in the organization simply isn’t ready to step into a larger role.
Another thing that could come into play later in the season is if a player like Christian Encarnacion-Strand does so much damage in the minors that the team has no real choice but to call him up. As a third baseman/first baseman, depending on how others are performing, his playing time could cut into how often there are opportunities available for everyone at the designated hitter spot. The plan is going to be adjustable based on the needs and availability of several players. For now, a plan is in place, but it’s also one that is likely to play out a little bit differently over the course of a season.