BRISTOL - Few teams have players who can do a little bit of everything. In Peyton Stephens, the Bristol Blues have exactly that.
Stephens has been all over the field for the Blues this season - from the mound to the batter’s box to the outfield - making an impact for the team every step of the way.
At the plate, the Waterbury native has continued the momentum from his hot freshman season at Central Connecticut State University. Though his average dipped from .301 as a Blue Devil to .256 with Bristol, Stephens has still found a way to produce runs. His 18 RBI are the third-most on the team. He also has more runs scored (20) and stolen bases (7) than he did at CCSU.
“Throughout the year, I think I definitely struggled a bit, especially in the summer,” Stephens said. “You kind of just have to find a way to turn it around and make sure your head is still in the game. I’ve just had to keep that focus at the plate.”
Even with the struggles at time, Bristol manager Ronnie Palmer is as confident in Stephens as he is with anyone on the team.
“He’s been productive at the plate in some way, shape or form,” Palmer said. “Whether he’s getting on base, or taking advantage of an opportunity to move a guy up, or drive a run in he’s done a good job for us this summer. And once he gets on the bases, he runs extremely well, so he’s that threat to steal bases to go from first to third [base] or second to home. So you like having those types of guys in the order.”
Stephens has even seen an offensive surge of late, with hits in eight of his last nine games entering Monday night’s playoff game against the Pittsfield Suns, with six RBI over that stretch. But Palmer doesn’t think his outfielder is doing anything differently.
“He’s still doing the same things he did earlier in the summer,” Palmer said. “If anything, he’s not chasing as many bad pitches. And like a lot of our guys this summer, I think he’s getting his legs back under him after the All-Star break.”
The biggest improvement to Stephens’ game has been his effectiveness on the mound. After Stephens struggled with an 8.64 ERA in just 8 1/3 innings for CCSU, he’s found his groove with the Blues.
Although he hasn’t gotten many opportunities as a pitcher, he has taken advantage of it, proving he can be someone Palmer can rely on out of the bullpen in the playoffs. In five appearances this summer, Stephens has gone 6 2/3 innings, giving up just two runs and two hits. He also has 11 strikeouts, showing he can do much more than just hit.
“He’s got electric stuff,” Palmer said. “His arm strength is above average - his velocity is his plus. So when we get the opportunity to get him some work on the mound, it’s always been very productive. It’s been a balance between pitching and playing the outfield. You don’t want to put a guy in a situation where he’s going to hurt himself. There will probably be opportunities, if we can make a deep run in the playoffs, for him to get back on the mound for some innings.”
Perhaps one of the biggest keys to Stephens’ improvement on the mound has been his ability to get more practice time than he did during CCSU’s season.
“I just have a lot more opportunity to throw more bullpens and get more comfortable on the mound,” Stephens said. “During the [CCSU] season, I didn’t really throw that often. So it was kind of hard to go in there and just throw.”
But overall, Stephens’ greatest asset is his defense. In 316 2/3 innings in the field, he has committed just one error. With 42 putouts and 12 assists, Palmer believes Stephens brings the entire package as a defender.
“I think it instills confidence in our pitchers to be able to pitch to contact,” Palmer said. “Peyton traps the ball extremely well. He gets good read off the bat. He can track a lot of balls down with his speed. He also keeps runners in check with his arm strength - a lot of teams aren’t running on him like they were in the beginning of the summer.”
His well-rounded play did not go unnoticed - he was selected to the Futures League All-Star game by the fan vote. Still with only has one collegiate season under his belt, there’s no telling just how good he can be.
“He did a tremendous job at Central and he’s doing a tremendous job for us this summer,” Palmer said. “He continues to work at the game. He is going to continue to progress. Who knows what his limitations are - only he does.”
If anything, this summer is one Stephens won’t take for granted.
“It has really helped with my comfort level,” Stephens said. “Seeing a bunch of different guys from all over - not just Division-I in your conference, but D-II and D-III guys as well, but still very good ballplayers.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org