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Devin Mesoraco Poised to Show Reds He's Worth the Investment

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The Cincinnati Reds bet on Devin Mesoraco in the offseason, Devin looks to back it up.

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What a terrifying young man.
What a terrifying young man.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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Biographical
Name: Devin Douglas Mesoraco
DOB: June 19, 1988
Hometown: Punxsutawney, PA

Tale of the Tape
Position: Catcher
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 220lbs

Notes from the Past
Devin Mesoraco graduated from Punxsutawney Area High School in 2007 after a massive prep campaign, setting the school record in walks, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and stolen bases. He was named the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year (Presented by GATORADE), and also lead his team to the state championship in Class AAA. For his efforts, Mesoraco was rewarded by being selected with the 15th overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds.

At age 19, Mesoraco struggled mightily in his adjustment to professional baseball. In 2007 for the GCL Rookie Reds, Devin managed a .219/.310/.270 slash in 155 plate appearances. In 2008, Devin played the season in Dayton and brought his numbers up, but still was still generally uninspiring (.710 OPS). In 2009, the guy who was drafted to potentially be the big hitting catcher of the future completed his third professional season without cracking .400 SLG. While still only 21 years old, and still a year and a half younger than his league, there had to be doubts at least beginning to creep into the minds of Reds brass as well as Reds fans.

Fortunately for everyone, 2010 saw Mesoraco break out in a big way. He rampaged through the Reds minor leagues. A+ ball was moved from Sarasota to Lynchburg. Evidentially, that was enough to wake Mesoraco up, and in 43 games to begin the season Devin batted .335/.414/.620 for a eye-popping 1.035 OPS. Devin was then called up to AA Carolina and couldn't stop, wouldn't stop. Slashing .294/.363/.594 with another 13 home runs in 53 games, Mesoraco beat the door down to Louisville to end the season. Meso cooled a bit in the small sample, but 2010 was a rousing success for the breakout budding star. For the season, he earned a Player of the Week at Lynchburg and an Organizational All-Star nod, putting some of the initial worries out of mind.

Devin appeared at number 53 on Baseball Prospectus's Pre-2011 list of Top Prospects. He proceeded to prove that his 2010 breakout wasn't a fluke. He logged a full season at AAA Louisville in 2011, logging PA shy of 500, offering a .289/.371/.484  slash line good for a .855 OPS with 15 salamis to help feed the prospect junkies. Meanwhile, a fun little storyline was playing itself out during the 2011 minor league season. 2010 Reds first round pick (12th overall) and fellow catcher Yasmani Grandal was concurrently setting the world ablaze in the Reds minors, posting a .901 OPS and 14 home runs over three levels (albeit only 18 PAs in Louisville). ALL OF A SUDDEN the Reds had two possible candidates for "catcher of the future" and, while being a great situation to find yourself in, fans of the Reds looked for clues to which catcher prospect the Reds were willing to roll with, which would find himself a new position or, perhaps, a new home.

In December of 2011, general manager Walt Jocketty answered the question decisively, sending Yasmani Grandal (along with other uber-prospect Yonder Alonso, all-that-glitters-is-not-gold Edinson Volquez, and Brad Boxbergerto the San Diego Padres for Mat Latos. Devin Mesoraco would be with the big league club during 2012's Spring Training, and would make the roster on Opening Day.

The Majors
Devin's major league career started innocently enough, but ended with him only seeing 184 PAs while veteran pitch-framer and all around defensive wizard Ryan Hanigan and, by the end of the season, Dioner Navarro being preferred over the rookie Mesoraco. Mesoraco managed only a .212/.288/.352 line in his rookie season, but also posted a low .234 BABIP. Reds manager Dusty Baker never seemed particularly interested in giving Mesoraco the time to work out the kinks at the big league level, although it's worth noting that the margin for error and experimentation was nearly nil in 2012, as the team was fighting a drop-down-drag-out fight for the division without all-world everything Joey Votto.

In what is still one of the more interesting days in Devin's young career, Mesoraco was ejected in the top of the 3rd inning on July 30, 2012 in a game versus the San Diego Padres. Visibly irritated with the home plate umpire, Mesoraco let his feelings known after a ball call. By the end of the scuffle, Mesoraco was ejected and while getting his money's worth, bumped home plate umpire Chad Fairchild resulting in a 3 game suspension. It came to light later that Devin had suffered a concussion from a collision with Cameron Maybin earlier in the game and he found himself on the 7-day DL. You can see in the clip that Dusty is visibly annoyed with Mesoraco; the ejection, suspension and DL trip couldn't have earned him any points with the long-time manager. Mesoraco only played in 9 games after the incident and was demoted to AAA Louisville at one point at the end of the season.

Also of note: Grandal found himself out of the game and onto the DL after only one PA in that same game after straining his oblique.

In 2013, Mesoraco ended up with the bulk of the catching duties while Ryan Hanigan battled injury and a horrid year at the plate. When healthy, Hanigan was still the preferred receiver by many on the Reds pitching staff. However, an injury forced him out for a month and his bat did him no favors. Mesoraco still struggled to a .640 OPS (79 OPS+) over 352 PAs. Fan favorite Corky Miller managed an appearance in 17 games that season and played well in limited time, but in general, the catcher position for the Reds in 2013 was a pile of mediocre (or worse).

During the offseason before 2014, the Reds traded Ryan Hanigan for David Holmberg and signed catcher Brayan Pena, but it was obvious at that point that the everyday catcher's job was Devin's. Unfortunately, Mesoraco strained his oblique late in Spring Training and the Reds were forced to start the season without their starting catcher. When he returned to the lineup on April 8th, however, he was no worse for wear and hit the ground running (and hitting). In his first 53 ABs, Mesoraco slashed an otherworldly .468/.509/.787 only to be sidelined again after pulling a hamstring rounding the bases in Atlanta in late April.

Mesoraco showed up to work again on May 16th and promptly dingered to continue his hot start. Through the All-Star break, Mesoraco sported a .984 OPS with 13 home runs and earned himself a trip to the game for the firs time in his young career. After the break, Devin cooled with the rest of the team, managing a .788 OPS the rest of the way with 9 dingers, but Devin Mesoraco had officially made his mark for the Cincinnati Reds.

Contract
The Cincinnati Reds signed Devin Mesoraco to a 4 year, $28 million dollar contract on January 28th, 2015.

Stats

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

Scouting Report
via The Baseball Cube

Speed: 21
Contact: 50
Patience: 57
Batting: 51
Power: 69

Defensive
Fan's Scouting Report Rating (via Fangraphs) (2014 rating/career)

Instincts: 63/53
First Step: 55/47
Speed: 46/43
Hands: 60/53
Release: 57/48
Arm Strength: 67/65
Arm Accuracy: 66/56
Overall: 59/52

2015 Projections

PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF WAR
Steamer 435 19 48 56 3 .246/.317/.445 +9.7 2.9
ZiPS 401 18 49 63 1 .255/.327/.492 +7.4 2.9

PITCHf/x Hitter Profile
<img src="http://www.brooksbaseball.net/plot_h_profile.php?s_type=2&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI|FC|CU|SL|CS|KN|CH|FS|SB&time=month&player=519023&startDate=09/01/2011&endDate=03/10/2015&minmax=ci&var=count&balls=-1&strikes=-1&b_hand=-1">

Looking at 2015
The Reds are looking forward to Devin Mesoraco being a big bat in the middle of their lineup, as evidenced by the four year contract they gave him in the offseason. There are a few metrics to determine whether or not that was the correct move by the club, but none of that will be answered this year unless their budding young star is hit by a bus. But what does the season have in store for young Devin?

Devin has shown the tendency to feel his way through each level, starting out by trying to get a feel and then breaking out. That's what has appeared to happen for him in the big leagues. Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs explains what Mesoraco changed to get to that level, and rather than repeat all of that here, why don't you just read the full story. It's a pretty good way to get excited about your favorite catcher on your favorite team.

One thing I do want to point out is something that Sullivan iterates toward the end of that article. You'll hear people point out (as I did above) that Devin cooled off in the second half and that perhaps the league figured him out a bit heading into the end of the season. And while that's certainly possible, Mesoraco still posted a 121 wRC+ while being the everyday starter at catcher. Among catchers with at least 300 PAs, only eight managed a 121 wRC+ over the course of the season. Even if he doesn't post any more months of 1.000+ OPSes (and it's unrealistic to expect him to), he has still shown that he can sustain a top ten level of play at the position even after the league has "figured him out."

There's room for regression from Mesoraco, for sure. Chances are he's not going to be Mike Piazza from the plate because not very many people have been Mike Piazza at the plate. His HR/FB number from last year was double anything he'd put up previously for the Reds, so a drop off in dingers could be on the way.Then again, while his BABIP was much higher than it'd been in the majors, it was still a modest .309 in 2014 so it doesn't appear that he was obscenely lucky. It appears that Devin Mesoraco has arrived.

What's key for every player (especially on this roster), health, has pushed its way to the forefront in Spring Training again with Mesoraco. For a guy that Bryan Price would like to pencil into the lineup 145 days a year, the latest injury news is troubling. According to multiple reports, Devin has been sidelined indefinitely with a "minor concussion." His third diagnosed concussion in his pro-career, this one was suffered after taking a foul-tip off his catcher's mask. Concussion issues are at the forefront in all sports, and it's probably not fair to say that a concussion at one position is more important than at another, but having a catcher who's had three *diagnosed* concussions (and who knows really how many more that went undiagnosed) is very concerning. For instance, catcher is the only place on the field where hard projectiles are being thrown at you at 90mph+ on every single play. And it's a pretty safe bet that, at some point this season, Mesoraco will take another foul tip to the mask. To their credit, the young catcher and the team are looking for ways to improve his mask in order to try and cut down on the risk of head injuries. But the fact of the matter is this: catcher is a very physical position and for a guy who had two different stints on the disabled list in 2014, the issue is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The Reds bet on Devin Mesoraco and he will be looking to back it up and prove that he is indeed an All-Star level catcher. And hopefully he'll be proving right or wrong by what he's doing on the field and not how much time he has to spend in the dugout.