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Devin Mesoraco: Does He Deserve More Love?

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I posted here back in late March/early April that I drafted Reds catching prospect Devin Mesoraco in the UBA NL-only keeper league minors draft. I drafted him for three reasons: 1. he had a breakout year in 2010, 2. he was getting plenty of love from the prospect experts, and 3. he was close to being major league ready.

Prior to last year, his best season in the minors was in 2008 at Low A Dayton where he hit .261-.311-.399 with 9 HRs and 42 RBIs. He struck out in 21% and walked in 6% of his at bats that year. In 2009, his plate discipline improved as he increased his walk rate to almost 10%, but the strikeout rate also increased, to 24%.

In 2010, Mesoraco batted .302-.377-.587 with 26 HRs, 75 RBIs and an 80-43 K/BB rate across three levels of the minors-A+, AA and AAA. He cut his K rate down to 20% and, again, improved his walk rate to 10.8%. Of his 120 base hits, 56 went for extra base hits, so the power potential finally showed up during games.

This season he is hitting .327-.403-.551 with 8 HRs, 41 RBIs and a 43-25 K/BB rate. Of his 70 hits this season, 31 have gone for extra bases. 

More on Mesoraco after the jump:

 

ESPN's Jason Grey had a nice writeup on Mesoraco on Thursday and mentioned that several things were holding Mesoraco back prior to his 2010 breakout season: 1. he was dealing with several hand injuries and a wrist injury, and 2. he was not serious about his workouts and game preparation. Grey also talked about a change in Mesoraco's approach at the plate:

Mesoraco also changed his hand positioning, dropping his hands to give him a better bat path and be more direct to the ball, resulting in him hitting the ball in the air more, which is obviously never a bad thing for a power hitter. It also helped him reduce the uppercut in his swing, allowing him to keep the bat in the hitting zone longer. The stocky right-handed hitter gets good leverage, uses his lower half well and gets good extension, and the changes helped him tap into his raw power better. I expect more of those doubles to turn into homers down the road.

More home runs are always a good thing when you are discussing a catching prospect for fantasy purposes. Grey also discussed his defense behind the plate and concluded that he thinks Mesoraco could be a 20+ HR hitter in the big leagues, and hit for a solid BA/OBP as well.

But it wasn't Grey's article that lead me to writing this article, it was an article published by Jason Parks over at Baseball Prospectus. Parks joined  BP a few months ago and here is what Parks had to say about Mesoraco in an article where he ranks the top catching prospects in the minors currently:

Leader of the Pack (Present): Devin Mesoraco (Reds)
The Case For:
 Mesoraco is showing a middle-of-the-order bat from a premium defensive position, which basically makes him one of the most valuable prospects in the minors. At the plate, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has plus power, with a leveraged swing and plus-plus raw strength. Seriously, Mesoraco is an incredibly strong man. He can sell out a bit when looking for the power stroke, but his contact ability hasn’t suffered this season; in fact, he is barreling the ball like a plus-plus hitter. The hit tool itself is sound, meaning I think he can hit for average, but I don’t foresee a .300 hitter at the major-league level.

That first sentence caught me by surprise as I know I liked Mesoraco as a prospect, but Parks LOVES him. The 
"middle of the order bat" comment is key for fantasy owners as the more at bats he gets, the more valuable he will be, and the fact that he COULD bat in the middle of a lineup does make him very valuable. There aren't many catchers who hit in the middle of their team's lineup right now. The ones that come to mind are: Buster PoseyBrian McCannCarlos Santana, and Victor Martinez.

Mesoraco is currently batting cleanup for AAA Louisville for a team that includes other top prospects including first baseman/left fielder Yonder Alonso, outfielder Todd Frazier, shortstop Zach Cozart and former prospect Jeremy Hermida.

Mesoraco is currently blocked by Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan at the big league level, and there is a very small possibility that he gets called up before September, when rosters increase, but should an injury occur to either Hernandez or Hanigan, the Reds won't hesitate to call up their top prospect.

Hernandez is a free agent at the end of the season, and Hanigan is signed through 2013, but at a team friendly salary so playing time is not guaranteed. This leaves Mesoraco with a chance to play regularly at the big league level out of spring training next season.

Mesoraco is not one of the bigger hyped prospects in baseball, but he could impact your fantasy team as soon as this year, but more likely in 2012. The potential for 20+ HRs and a solid BA/OBP would rank him in the top 5-6 catchers in all of baseball. As an owner of Mesoraco, I am excited to see him hit in the big leagues, and fantasy owners in keeper leagues should not hesitate to pick him up if he is still available.