Prospect of the Day: Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
September is an opportunity for top prospect Devin Mesoraco to seize the long-term catching job in Cincinnati. This seemed unlikely two years ago, but he's since gone from a disappointment to one of the top prospects in baseball.
Devin Mesoraco was drafted 15th-overall by the Reds in 2007, a first-round pick from high school in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Scouts liked his power potential, and he showed off a strong throwing arm and sound defensive skills despite Tommy John surgery in 2006. His pro debut was undistinguished, with a .219/.310/.270 mark in 40 games in the Gulf Coast League. He improved somewhat in 2008, hitting .261/.311/.399 with nine homers, 20 walks, and 64 strikeouts in 306 at-bats in the Midwest League, not terrific but not terrible for the context. However, scouts said he picked up too much weight, and his work ethic (a strength in high school) on and off the field was criticized.
2009 was even worse: he hit just .228/.311/.381 in 312 at-bats in the Florida State League. A series of nagging injuries was at least partially responsible, but he continued to draw critiques for disappointing bat speed and worse-than-expected defense. By the end of '09, he was regarded as a major disappointment, at least by people outside the organization.
Everything changed in 2010. He avoided injuries, was in better physical condition, and made some adjustments to his swing. His bat speed returned, and the results were staggering: .302/.377/.587 with 26 homers, 43 walks, and 80 strikeouts in 397 at-bats spread between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. He improved with the glove as well, throwing out 41% of runners compared to just 30% in 2009 and a mere 17% in 2008. Any concerns about his work ethic vanished, and in general he looked like the player the Reds thought they were getting in 2007.
The question for 2011: could he prove last year wasn't a fluke? He did just that, hitting .289/.371/.484 with 36 doubles, 15 homers, 52 walks, and 83 strikeouts in 436 at-bats for Triple-A Louisville. He is in the majors now and looking to lay claim to the long-term catching job.
A 6-2, 220 pound right-handed hitter, Mesoraco has developed a good feel for hitting and isn't just a one-dimensional slugger. His bat is ahead of his glove at this point. Mesoraco has a strong throwing arm, but his defense is still a work in progress, his stealer-kill rate dropped to 26% this year, and as his error and passed ball rates are higher than ideal. Nevertheless, there are few doubts about his ability to remain behind the plate; he just needs more experience.
The Reds have another outstanding catching prospect in Yasmani Grandal, giving them some slack should Mesoraco falter.