Fantasy Baseball 2012: Devin Mesoraco or Travis d'Arnaud?

Two of the best catching prospects in the majors right now are about to make an impact on their respective major league rosters in 2012, and fantasy owners should take notice. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, barring an injury, will be the starting catcher in Cincinnati this season. On the other hand, Blue Jays catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud may need to wait a few months, via some AAA seasoning, before getting the call to the big league team.

I was reading Keith Law's chat over at ESPN on Thursday afternoon, and came across this Q & A:

Beau (NOLA)

D'Arnaud or Mesoraco? Why?

Klaw
(1:38 PM)

Mesoraco. Major-league ready immediately, cleaner health record. Both are future stars though.

I have to agree with Law here, but I may be biased, as I own Mesoraco in an NL-Only keeper league. Catchers who can hit for a good average and solid power are few and far between, which makes them very valuable in MLB as well as in fantasy baseball.

Like I mentioned previously, Mesoraco will be starting the 2012 season as the Reds starting catcher, with Ryan Hanigan backing him up. d'Arnaud will start the season in AAA, as he is currently blocked by 2011 call up J.P. Arencibia, although d'Arnaud is considered the better all around catcher, providing value at the plate and behind it.

John's thoughts on Mesoraco and d'Arnaud and more after the jump:

John has not published his Top 20 Reds prospects for 2012 yet, but this is what he wrote about Mesoraco in his Cincinatti Reds Top 20 PRESEASON Prospects in Review back in late July:

2) Devin Mesoraco, C, Grade B+: Hitting .305/.376/.496 with 38 walks, 73 strikeouts in 351 at-bats for Triple-A Louisville. Has caught 25% of runners. Very strong year confirms '10 was not a fluke.

Mesoraco did prove that his breakout in 2010 was no fluke, as he continued to hit for average and power, yet his

SLG indicates some dropoff as he moved up a level. His home runs dropped from 26 in 2010 to 15 in 2011, yet his

doubles dropped from 36 to 25. Even with the power dropoff, Mesoraco maintained a solid eye at the plate as he

walked in just over 10% of his at bats. I wonder if John will maintain his B+ ranking or he pushes him to an A- for 2012.

Here are Devin Mesoraco's career minor league stats, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 19 Rk 40 137 16 30 4 0 1 8 15 26 .219 .310 .270 .580
2008 20 A 83 306 29 80 13 1 9 42 20 64 .261 .311 .399 .710
2009 21 A+ 92 312 32 71 22 1 8 37 35 76 .228 .311 .381 .692
2010 22 AA-A+-AAA 113 397 71 120 25 5 26 75 43 80 .302 .377 .587 .964
2010 22 A+ 43 158 24 53 11 2 10 31 19 29 .335 .414 .620 1.035
2010 22 AA 56 187 42 55 11 3 13 31 18 37 .294 .363 .594 .957
2010 22 AAA 14 52 5 12 3 0 3 13 6 14 .231 .310 .462 .772
2011 23 AAA 120 436 60 126 36 2 15 71 52 83 .289 .371 .484 .855
5 Seasons 448 1588 208 427 100 9 59 233 165 329 .269 .344 .455 .799
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2011.

John recently published his Top 20 Blue Jays prospects for 2012 where he ranked d'Arnaud as his #1 prospect in the stocked Toronto system:

1) Travis D'Arnaud, C, Grade B+: Borderline A-: He would be an A- or maybe even an A if he was more effective at throwing out runners and struck out less often, but he can really hit and is still a superior prospect even with those weaknesses.

While Mesoraco had his breakout season in 2010, d'Arnaud had his breakout season in 2011. Playing in more than 100 games for the first time since 2009, d'Arnaud showed improvement across the board as he triple slashed .311-.371-.542 with 21 HRs and 78 RBI in 424 at bats at AA New Hampshire. He strikes out a bit more than Mesoraco and walked in just over 7% of his at bats in 2011. He benefitted from an unsustainable BABIP of .365, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in AAA in 2012.
Here are Travis d'Arnaud's career minor league stats

Year Age Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 18 Rk 41 141 18 34 3 0 4 20 4 23 .241 .278 .348 .626
2008 19 A--A 64 239 33 73 18 1 6 30 23 39 .305 .367 .464 .831
2008 19 A- 48 175 21 54 13 1 4 25 18 29 .309 .371 .463 .833
2008 19 A 16 64 12 19 5 0 2 5 5 10 .297 .357 .469 .826
2009 20 A 126 482 71 123 38 1 13 71 41 75 .255 .319 .419 .738
2010 21 A+ 71 263 36 68 20 1 6 38 20 63 .259 .315 .411 .726
2011 22 AA 114 424 72 132 33 1 21 78 33 100 .311 .371 .542 .914
5 Seasons 416 1549 230 430 112 4 50 237 121 300 .278 .336 .452 .788
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2011.

Heading into 2012 drafts, both d'Arnaud and Mesoraco are a must own in dynasty and keeper leagues, if not owned already. Mesoraco is a late round choice in mixed leagues and a mid-round selection in NL-Only leagues, while d'Arnaud may not be draftable in some leagues since he will be starting the season in the minors, but fantasy owners should pay close attention to when he finally does get the call, and grab him off the waiver wire.

Who would you rather have going forward? I prefer Mesoraco as he hits in the better hitter's park, so I give him the nod over d'Arnaud right now.
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