Former Oxford High standout Jackson Stephens is one step closer to becoming a major-league baseball pitcher.
The Cincinnati Reds included the 22-year-old right-hander among players named to the parent club’s 40-man expanded roster Friday. He joins right-hander Barrett Astin, right-hander Keury Mella, right-hander Nick Travieso, outfielder Aristides Aquino, outfielder Phillip Ervin and outfielder Jesse Winker.
The expanded roster includes all players who are eligible for call-up to the 25-man active roster at any given time. All are signed to major league contracts.
Stephens was among the players the Red chose to extend once their minor league contracts were up.
“The 40-man roster technically means you’re a part of the Reds’ roster,” Stephens said. “It’s kind of a big deal. You’re just not on the 25-man roster, but there’s always room for you to go up to the 25-man. As always, anybody could go up there.
“It’s just more they like you a lot, so they’re going to put you on the 40-man roster to keep you.”
Stephens will start spring training in big league camp and will compete for a job on the 25-man roster.
“You never know where they might put you,” he said. “They might send you back to Double-A. They might send you to Triple-A. My goal is to be in Triple-A or the big-league club, absolutely, but many things can happen.”
Stephens was a multi-sport standout at Oxford and starred on Yellow Jackets’ 2012 Class 6A title team in baseball. He signed with the Reds out of high school.
He spent the 2016 season with the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, going 8-11 with a save and 3.33 ERA in 27 appearances, including 26 starts. He struck out 131 batters with 41 walks in 151.1 innings pitched.
In five seasons with four minor-league teams, Stephens is 26-33 with a 3.68 ERA and 359 strikeouts in 450 innings.
Stephens changed to a more high-intensity offseason training program between the 2015 and 2016 seasons and added velocity, notching up into the 92- to 93-mph range, hitting 95 at times.
“I went and watched him throw in the (Southern League) All-Star Game, and he only threw one inning, and he climbed up to 97,” Oxford High coach Wes Brooks said.
That and the fact that he has just 114 walks in five seasons helped him make the 40-man roster with three other pitchers, some older than him.
Stephens had told Brooks that his making the roster was a 50-50 proposition.
“Being his age, 22 about to turn 23, he was saying he was sure a couple of guys would get the call before him because they’re 25 and 26,” Brooks said. “Jackson was the youngest guy on his roster in Pensacola.
“That was the 50-50 part that he was, like, ‘Well, I might have to go another year just because of my age,’ but he got the call up.”
It all means Stephens, at worst, is a call away from playing in the major leagues,
“Hopefully, he’ll get an opportunity at some point next year to get a major-league debut,” Brooks said. “We’ll all fly out there and see him, wherever he’s at.”