Jackson Stephens has had a whirlwind time of it over the last 15 months. After pitching in the Mexican League in 2021, the Braves snapped him up on a minor league deal in early 2022. He didn’t make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training that year, but he made just one appearance at Triple-A before he was added to the 40-man roster and became a lower-leverage fixture in the Atlanta bullpen.
Stephens’ 2022 went about as well as you could expect for a guy who hadn’t pitched in MLB in any part of the prior three seasons. He posted an 89/90/102 pitching line (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-) and tallied 0.4 fWAR in the process. The WPA wasn’t great (-0.41) and the xFIP suggests he was more fortunate than effective, but still, it was a good ride for him. He even got to throw a couple of innings in the postseason. Less fun: getting struck by a batted ball in the noggin and having to miss about a week on what was probably a very painful seven-day Concussion Injured List stint.
But, things didn’t stop happening for Stephens when the season ended. Early in the offseason, the Braves acquired Dennis Santana from the Rangers, and de facto gave Stephens’ roster spot to Santana. Stephens cleared waivers and became a free agent, but signed a non-guaranteed $740,000 split contract with the Braves about a month later. He’s been pitching in big league camp fairly regularly, and even outlasted Santana, who ended up getting claimed on waivers and switching teams a few more times this offseason, but...
The #Braves today outrighted RHP Jackson Stephens to Triple-A Gwinnett. Atlanta now has 41 total players in camp.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) March 19, 2023
One thing to keep in mind, here: because the Braves outrighted Jackson, he cleared outright waivers. At this point, because he’s been outrighted before, he has the ability to reject the assignment and become a free agent again. It’s not clear from the blurb above whether that’s happened or he’s accepted the assignment; the decision may still be pending, though the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (no idea whether there were any changes to this in the new one) required the player to decide essentially instantly upon being notified, so it’s possible that Stephens and the Braves already know his next step, it’s just that we don’t.
In any case, Stephens seems like a fine-enough, last-guy-on-the-roster bullpen option with some potentially-useful stamina in terms of being able to go multiple innings. He had an excellent curveball that he could not command at all last year, and actually fared really well with both of his main pitches despite the completely scattershot nature of his command. There may be more to unlock there by focusing just on his best pitches, but we’ll have to wait and see whether that ends up happening with the Braves. If this is the end of the line for Stephens in Atlanta, at least we had 2022, which was quite a ride.