BY JED WEISBERGER
TRENTON, NJ – Trevor Stephan certainly passes the eye test. At 6-foot-5, 225, Stephen, a tall right-hander who is the Yankees’ No. 18 prospect (Baseball America), has the look of a winner.
After a 1-1, 1.31 effort in 11 appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast Yankees and short-season Staten Island Yankees on 2017, Stephan was challenged this spring with an assignment to Class-A Advanced Tampa, where, in seven starts, he dominated by going 3-1, 1.98 with a 49/9 strikeout/walk ratio.
“It went real well in Tampa for me,’’ said the 22-year-old native of Magnolia, Texas, who earned a promotion to Double-A Trenton May 22. “I’m glad to be here. The hitters in this league offer plenty of challenges.’’
So far, Stephan is 2-4, 4.78 with the Thunder – 4-5, 3.86 counting his Tampa work – with a strikeout/walk ratio of 88-20. He was drafted out of the University of Arkansas in the third round of the 2017 draft and was signed for $797,500 by scout Mike Ranson.
He was mostly a reliever at Hill (Texas) Junior College before transferring to Arkansas for his junior season, where he started 16 games and attracted the Yankees’ attention.
“Arkansas is an excellent program,’’ said Stephen. “Andrew Benintendi was there for a few years (2014-15) and the team got to the finals in the College World Series (losing to Oregon State) this year.
“I really feel I came a long way there. To play in the Yankees system is special.’’
Stephan, who throws a fastball with late life that can reach 94-95 in spots – similar to what David Robertson first came to the Yankees with – mixed with a slider that gets swings and misses and a change-up that is improving, faced good competition during his season in the SEC.
“I am pleased with the level my fastball and slider are at right now,’’ said Stephan. “I am working hard on my change, because I know I’ll need it at this level and beyond.
“You have to have command of three pitches against hitters at these levels.’’
What also helps Stephan has a somewhat funky delivery and the fact he operates from the stretch on the first-base side of the rubber. This gives the batter a bit more to look at, especially when he unleashes his effective slider.
“All that is just something I developed and feel comfortable with,’’ he said. “It works for me.’’
Stephan lost his last two starts, a tough outing against a Binghamton team that hits well in their home park June 25 and a contest against the New Hampshire team July 1 in which he got no run support. Yet, the Yankees seem to have made the right decision to put him on a pretty fast track.
“I feel this is the level I need to be at right now, and I am happy the Yankees gave me the opportunity,’’ he said. “I feel there is light at the end of the tunnel as far as the majors is concerned.
“Especially after (Jonathan) Loaisiga. One day he was here in our clubhouse in Trenton, the next you see him on TV pitching in Yankee Stadium.’’
There’s a solid chance Stephan will be pitching on that mound in the future.