When I was young I knew everything
Learning to anticipate the struggles of a rookie is a difficult thing to do. I watch prospects fail every year. Some of them with obvious flaws that get exploited, and others who are seemingly prepared but just don't perform. Yet I continue to believe in many of the prospects and am surprised when they fail. This series will look at prospects who stumbled out of the blocks and what a difficult 2012 means going forward. Please note that these will not be all encompassing looks, but merely identifying some aspects of their respective games that may have caused trouble and what I think of them going forward. Today's subject: Devin Mesoraco
[Not] A punk who rarely took advice
I expected much out of Mesoraco coming into 2012. I ranked him highly on my top 12 Hitters for '12 season preview. I had always like Ryan Hanigan, but in Mesoraco, I saw a complete player who had earned his stripes in Triple-A, overcome struggles early in his career and showed the ability to adapt and excel at the highest levels. I thought Mesoraco would overtake Hanigan around June and have the lion's share of the playing time. Instead, Mesoraco hung around the majority of the season before suffering the indignity of being demoted in favor of Dioner Navarro, not that is wasn't deserved.
What made us think that we were wise?
Indeed. How could we (read: I) have thought that someone who was optioned in favor of Dioner Navarro would have competed for the NL Rookie of the Year? For starters, he had a walk rate of around 10% the last two years in the minors and a strikeout rate of only 17%. For someone with his pop (41 HRs/last two seasons), that strikeout rate is extremely impressive, and even moreso when supplemented with an above average walk rate. More than that, the scouting reports lived up to the numbers and possibility hinted at more. Plus bat speed, uses the whole field, can turn on inside pitches, and perhaps one of the most important things for a catcher: plus make-up. Despite nagging injuries and initial struggles, Mesoraco responded by redoubling his efforts. When I add the statistics he accrued over the last two seasons in the minor leagues to his top notch scouting report; it's easy to remember why I fell so hard for Mesoraco in the first place.
[H]e fell through the ice when [h]e tried not to slip
Mesoraco posted a paltry .212/.288/.352 slash line in a mere 184 plate appearances in his rookie season. Certainly not the debut I envisioned. So what went wrong with Mesoraco? His K% was only nominally higher than the ones recorded in his minor league season's and his BB% was again only slightly lower. We're talking a percent or less for either statistic, so I'm pretty confident that while they were going in the wrong direction, his plate discipline and contact skills are still intact. Not to oversimplify, but it's worth noting that Mesoraco's BABIP has been markedly lower in the majors than in the minors. In his two dominant seasons, Mesoraco posted BABIPs of well north of .300 and in his two brief stints in the major leagues he's recored BABIPs of .184 and .234 respectively. This isn't to say that Mesoraco's dreadful performance thus far as a major leaguer is purely bad luck, but I do believe he's had his fair share.
I cannot believe [h]e'd ever die for these sins
I looked a bit further into Mesoraco's plate discipline, which is more than just his BB%, to see if he was swinging at pitches outside the zone more than he should, thinking that that he may be making weak contact on pitcher's pitches thus explaining the poor results. What I found was surprising indeed. My suspicions were wrong once again. He swung at 27% of pitches outside the zone (O-swing%), below the league average 31% in 2012 and he swung at 72% of pitches inside the zone (Z-swing%), well above the league average of 65%. So despite laying off of more balls than your average player, and swinging at more pitches in the zone than your average player, Mesoraco has consistently struggled to hit the ball as a major leaguer. One reason might lie in his O-Contact% (his contact rate on swings he took on pitches that were outside the zone), as it registered at 62%, well below the league average of 67%.
I won't be held responsible
So what does all of this mean exactly? Well, the answer is: I don't really know. I continue to think that Mesoraco suffered from some bad luck, but also was making weak contact that would explain at least part of that low BABIP. I also think that weak contact is a difficult thing to remain constant from year to year and that the more playing time that Mesoraco receives, the more he will be able to adapt and respond. I'm still quite high on Mesoraco, and while those in redraft leagues can probably ignore him on draft day, he's a name to keep an eye on. For those of us in dynasty leagues, I consider Mesoraco a buy-low/possible post-hype sleeper. Playing time could be an issue initially, but the Reds will have to find out what they have in him at some point. Here's to hoping that point happens in 2013.
Note: All statistics pulled from FanGraphs
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