I've mentioned several times, in several places, that the 2013 Reds lack an offensive player who is outperforming expectations. They're like a tech company, twelve years after going public, whose stock takes a hit when they meet their revenue numbers for a quarter but decline to raise targets by 8%; some people sour on their outlook, sell, and send the stock price spiraling, while only a few folks actually take note that they're still making money.
Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are having fine seasons, but there's plenty of things to suggest that they've somewhat plateaued in their evolutions as ballplayers (both, I should add, are at plenty acceptable plateaus, if true). Brandon Phillips has performed at a satisfactory level, rising to the occasion when needed but generally not producing at the level he once did. Shin-Soo Choo has been exactly what we'd hoped and expected, with nothing more than an abnormal rate of being hit by pitches marking much difference that what he's done before, and though Todd Frazier exploded onto the scene last year, his .757 OPS this season looks eerily similar to the .756 predicted by ZiPS (U) and the .754 predicted by Steamer (U).
Part of why the Reds were such a safe pick to win 90 or so games and make the playoffs was precisely due to those things being predictable. There wasn't a Yasiel Puig type unknown that the Reds were depending upon, or an Anthony Rendon, Christian Yelich, or Nolan Arenado type top prospect that could burst onto the scene. There wasn't an aging Todd Helton or Scott Rolen being counted on for big PA numbers who may break down, may get old in a hurry, or may well catch lightning in a bottle before retiring. Truly, there wasn't even a Hanley Ramirez type, a still-in-prime player whose production had varied wildly in previous seasons. Ryan Ludwick was the only player close to inducing an expectation conundrum, but there wasn't a soul out there who truly thought him capable of replicating his 2012 season, if healthy.
In truth, there wasn't a single player expected to contribute who you could truly point to and say "yeah, he might really blow our expectations out the of the water."
Devin Mesoraco turned 25 just last month, and was sitting - and sitting a lot - on a .231/.305/.361 line, mired in a 5 for 32 slump after the final game in the month of June. When the calendar flipped, however, something flipped for Mes, too.
The #15 overall draft pick in the 2007 draft has caught fire, and it's likely no coincidence that the most productive month of his career is coinciding with the month where he's on pace to have his most consistent playing time. He's currently .354/.396/.552 tear through 53 PA in July, and with 7 games left in the month (and Ryan Hanigan still on the DL), he looks poised to surpass his previous career high of 60 PA in a month despite the fact that the All-Star break took 4 days off the schedule.
So yeah, I know...Small Sample Size, selective endpoints, blah, blah, blah. I'm aware of that, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't think his .938 OPS (that features a .417 BABIP in July) is sustainable. I get that. At the same time, however, it's the first time the player once universally ranked as a Top 20 prospect in all of baseball has hit with authority and success over any - even small - sample, and there are a few things that lend themselves to the train of thought that says maybe, just maybe, he's turning the corner.
Devin's 2013 line drive rate sits at a rather Jay Bruce-ian 24.8%, well above the 16.7% he showed last year, and his walk rate has climbed up to 9.5%, well above the 5.7% he showed in his first cup of coffee in the big leagues and much, much closer to the 10.4% rate he showed in AAA Louisville. More importantly, his season BABIP of .298 is finally showing some semblance of normalcy after his 2012 (.234) and 2011 (.184) were dreadfully low.
As we sit here some 63% of the way through the season, not a whole lot about Mes's .262/.327/.405 really, truly wows you. That .732 OPS is, once again, nearly dead on the Steamer (U) projection of .257/.324/.406. There's just something about Mesoraco's current .144 ISO that screams this will go up, and the way he's been hitting lately, I'm tempted to jump on a limb and predict just that.
It's more of a twig, really, since even Zack Cozart has a career ISO of .147. Heck, league average ISO this season is .146, and I certainly believe Devin should, and will be, above average in that category.
I'm sure that Ryan Hanigan's imminent return will but a damper on Mesoraco's overall playing time at least a bit, but at least this time Mes will return to splitting time knowing that it's not a demotion due to lack of performance; rather, he'll go there with confidence that he can get the job done, and not only that, he'll also go there knowing he's been able to carry the load at catcher effectively since his pitchers sport a 3.23 ERA when he's behind the plate - lower than Ryan Hanigan's 3.47 ERA this season.
Being a young catcher is tough enough; being a highly touted young catcher can be a bear, and the only ones that have truly made that transition look easy are either in the Hall of Fame or well on their way. Former top catching prospect Matt Wieters, for instance, hit just .249/.319/.377 in his second professional season, and the recent dominance of Yadier Molina has done nothing but remind Reds fans exactly how bad he was when he first broke into the big leagues (in the season he turned 24, his 3rd season in the majors, he hit just .214/.274/.321). Those kind of breakouts happen eventually, lest we forget.
Devin's had an interesting ride as a professional so far. He was drafted highly out of high school and quickly performed poorly enough to drop off the radar of most professional scouts. Things clicked, his offense took off, and he once again found himself considered one of the best in the game, and the expectations on him only heightened when one of his closest peers, Yasmani Grandal, was traded away, leaving the title of "Catcher of the Future" sitting solely on his mantle, and in a city that's seen the likes of Johnny Bench and Ernie Lombardi, that can be a tough title to carry at age 22. Perhaps at age 25 it feels much more comfortable to him.
Few have been as skeptical of his ultimate upside as I have, but there's no doubt there are tools there that are beginning to round into shape, and it couldn't come at a better time. Most every team that ever achieves great things has both a spark and a player playing above their head, and it's beginning to look like Devin Mesoraco just might be that player for the 2013 Cincinnati Reds.
I, for one, am baffled at just how easily I'd forgotten that there was a consensus Top 20 prospect with an impact bat just waiting for a chance to turn this offense around. Good thing Devin's making us remember.