For the third consecutive season, the Cincinnati Reds have been faced with the fact that they have little to no knowledge about the production they can count on from their franchise catcher. Devin Mesoraco has shredded labra so often in so many corners of his body that our own CMS spellcheck doesn't even recognize the plural form of the word 'labrum,' and even prior to his last two lost seasons experienced repeated nagging hamstring injuries and a concussion. Still, the power display he showed in 2014 didn't come as too much of a surprise given his lofty prospect rankings over the years and displays in AAA Louisville when completely healthy, and with two years and some $20+ million guaranteed on his contract, it's obvious that Mes is going to get every chance to show he's a capable, dependable big league catcher once again.
He took another great stride in that comeback yesterday, as MLB.com's Austin Laymance noted, catching 4 innings in a Cactus League game and breaking out Jason Hammel's then-no-hitter with a liner into the OF for a single. While he feels good - and admits as much - it's also clear that he's up against the clock to make the Opening Day roster, since that glorious day is now less than two full weeks away. Since the Reds have repeatedly emphasized that they don't intend to carry a third catcher on their active roster, whether or not Mes can crack the active 25 by the time camp breaks will go a long way towards determining how both the 25-man and 40-man rosters take shape.
For instance, there's the issue of Stuart Turner being a Rule 5 draftee. Next to Mes and Tucker Barnhart, he's the lone other catcher on the 40-man roster, and if the Reds don't opt to keep him on the 25-man roster to start the season he must be offered back to the Minnesota Twins. Turner has looked good in camp so far, posting a 1.160 OPS in 23 AB and looking competent with the glove, but he's never even reached AAA as a professional and may lack the experience needed to fill in even as a big league backup for now. Rob Brantly has also hit well this spring, but while he's got several years of big league experience, adding him to the roster would likely mean losing Turner altogether, too. In other words, if Mesoraco needs to begin the year on the 10-day DL to pick up some extended Spring Training repetitions, it will cause a bit of a domino effect on the overall roster to accommodate it. So, stay tuned, since the next week should be pretty telling in that regard.
C. Trent Rosecrans of The Enquirer has more on Mesoraco's chances of making the Opening Day roster, as well as notes on Raisel Iglesias' sore elbow and back, Jesse Winker's first dinger of the spring, and how versatility has been increasingly highlighted in Reds camp this year.
Over at RedsMinorLeagues.com, Doug Gray took a closer look at the pitch velocities exhibited by Robert Stephenson in his 4 inning outing on Saturday, thanks to the fact that the San Diego Padres had their pitch tracking system on for the game. While it's hardly a concrete endorsement that Stephenson is about to kick down the big league doors in a hurry, there were certainly some positive signs in the results.
In a sister post over at Redleg Nation, Gray has a similar summation for Amir Garrett, who pitched prior to Stephenson in Saturday's game against the Padres.
(Speaking of which, if the Reds are actually going to begin the regular season with Scott Feldman, Stephenson, Tim Adleman, and Cody Reed in the starting rotation, that’s four guys who combined to throw a total of 231.1 IP in 2016 at the big league level. In Johnny Cueto’s last two healthy seasons in Cincinnati, he averaged 230.1 IP on his own. And if you want to include Garrett in that discussion, well, he's obviously never even thrown a big league pitch before. Holy lack of experience, Batman.)
Cincinnati minor leaguer Zach Vincej has long been well regarded for having a great glove, but until his recent Arizona Fall League explosion (in a seriously small sample size) he'd never been known for his offense. Vincej reportedly has been working to change his swing in order to provide more offense, however, and he spoke to Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus about the alterations in a great interview from spring camp.
Here’s some evergreen Joey Votto fun. Over the last two seasons among left-handed hitters who have faced left-handed pitching at least 50 total times, Votto leads all of Major League Baseball in wOBA (.406), wRC+ (156), wRAA (28.5), and OBP (.434). In fact, Michael Saunders is the only lefty bat who has even approached Votto’s prowess against southpaws in that time, though Saunders only has 127 PA in those two seasons against them compared to Votto’s 392 PA. What he’s produced in those 392 PA has been astounding regardless of which stats you choose, since he’s accrued 21 doubles, 12 homers, 50 RBI, 61 walks, and 105 hits in that sample.
If you take the numbers back to 2010, there have been 126 MLB lefty hitters who have faced LHP at least 250 times, and Votto again has been far and away the best in all of baseball against them. The 149 wRC+ in that time dwarfs the second best hitter during that span (Brandon Belt at 128).
Conveniently, FanGraphs has started rolling out their 2017 Positional Power Rankings this week, and today marked their 1B post - one that features both Votto and the Reds ranked right near the top in all of MLB.