By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Devin Mesoraco, Catcher, Cincinnati Reds
2012 season: 54 G, 165 AB, .212 BA, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 17 R, .640 OPS
The Reds are a team built to win now. That’s why they traded for Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason, even though he only has one year left on his contract. That’s why they’re going to keep Aroldis Chapman as the team’s closer rather than see what he could be in the rotation. And that’s why the team is almost entirely comprised of veterans. The Reds aren’t looking to break in new players and see what could be; they’re trying to win the N.L. Central for the second year in a row.
Still, they have one young player to keep an eye on in Devin Mesoraco. The 24-year-old catcher hasn’t exactly impressed in his Major League career, hitting just .205 with a .628 OPS in 72 games, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunity, either.
In the minors, Mesoraco was a force to be reckoned with, earning himself elite prospect status. In 453 games, he hit .268 with 49 home runs and a .795 OPS. Those numbers are skewed by a rough start to his career, however. In 139 games at Triple-A, the kid from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania batted .279 with 18 homers and an .832 OPS. Those numbers aren’t far off from what fellow catcher and former prospect Jesus Montero did at Triple-A, where he hit .289 with an .843 OPS. But despite their similarities – their success in the minors and struggles so far in the Majors – Montero still gets media attention, while Mesoraco seems to have slipped through the cracks.
The reason for that might be that Mesoraco isn’t lined up as the Reds’ starter this season. That job belongs, at the moment, to Ryan Hannigan. The 32-year-old provides a veteran presence that manager Dusty Baker surely appreciates, but he lacks anything near the upside that Mesoraco has. Baker is one for making safe choices, and Hannigan is the safe choice right now. Still, Mesoraco will likely continue to get at-bats and chances to seize the starting job outright.
At his best, Mesoraco can hit for average and power, especially in a stadium as hitter-friendly as the Great American Ball Park. He’s also shown that he can draw walks at a rate above league-average, which means he has about as much offensive potential as any catcher in baseball. Defensively, Mesoraco has improved his receiving skills as he’s progressed over the past few years, though like many young catchers, there is always more room to grow. Most of the players on the Reds are known commodities who have shown exactly what they can do; Mesoraco, on the other hand, is an x-factor who could provide extra value to a team that’s already one of the best in the big leagues.
Next up on March 25: St. Louis Cardinals