Devin Mesoraco: Call It a Mulligan

Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

A Rookie of the Year favorite in preseason polls, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco instead did a faceplant and ended up being sent back to the minors. With a veteran-loving manager calling the shots, Mesoraco's future as Cincinnati's starting catcher is in doubt, but he still has the talent to realize his potential and become a fantasy asset.

2012 was supposed to be Devin Mesoraco's year. Rated number sixteen on Baseball America's top prospect list in the preseason, Mesoraco was generally seen as one of the more promising young catching prospects in baseball. When the Reds let Ramon Hernandez walk after the 2011 season, the door was open for Mesoraco to step in and take over as the starting catcher in Cincy. The team had shipped their other young, exciting catching prospect Yasmani Grandal away in the Mat Latos trade, indicating that they were putting all their chips squarely on Mesoraco's name as their catcher of the future. Mesoraco had initially entered prospect hounds' radar by combining blossoming power with a good batting eye. Fantasy owners expected him to utilize these skills to become one of the best young catchers in the league (and be a draft day bargain) and develop into a top ten catcher in no time.

So, shall we call for a do-over? Mesoraco was horrible this year. There's just no way around it. He got off to a decent enough start by hitting .300/.389/.433 in the season's first month, but once May hit his season went off the rails. He hit .135 that month and went into the All-Star Break hitting .214 while displaying very little of the power that fans had expected of him. He finished a decent month of July by earning a suspension for flipping his lid and bumping an umpire, then missed more than a week shortly thereafter with a concussion. By the time Mesoraco came off the concussion DL, the Reds had moved on, and he found himself in the minors to finish August. Though he returned when rosters expanded, he didn't make a single start in the month of September. To show just how much faith the Reds had lost in him, he was passed over for a postseason roster spot in favor of Dioner freaking Navarro.

The first inclination here is to blame Dusty Baker for Mesoraco's failings. Baker is an easy target of course, because any time a young player fails, it must be because of Baker's veteran fetish. Baker has long had a reputation for favoring veteran players over rookies, and it has traditionally been an uphill battle for a young player to find playing time for Baker's teams. He does have a track record of squashing young hitters behind veteran mediocrities (remember Hee Seop Choi or Matt Murton?), so our first instinct is to assume that Mesoraco was being passed over in favor of some good, old fashioned veterany goodness.

Unfortunately, there isn't a while lot of evidence that that was the case here. Mesoraco began the season in what amounted to a straight time share with Baker's resident veteran Ryan Hanigan. In the first four months of the season, Hanigan started 13, 17, 16, and 15 games, respectively. Mesoraco started nine games in April and then eleven each in May, June, and July. Hanigan got more starts, sure, but Mesoraco wasn't exactly relegated to little-used backup status. He got more than enough of an opportunity to prove that he was the better option.

The only difference is that Mesoraco didn't hit, and Hanigan kinda did. Baker is definitely inclined to give veterans the benefit of the doubt, but you can't say that Mesoraco didn't get a chance to succeed. What was Baker supposed to do? He was at the helm of a playoff-bound club and Mesoraco was a liability. He just stunk it up. He never showed the power he displayed in the minors, and if you're a youngster playing for Dusty and you don't produce immediately, you don't have a lot of margin for error. In this case Mesoraco only dug his own grave by failing to produce. When you're losing September at-bats to Dioner Navarro, you only have yourself to blame.

Mesoraco initially achieved prospect status with a strong .302/.377/.587 season across three minor league levels in 2010. He followed that up by hitting .289/.371/.484 in his first full season at AAA. What excited scouts about Mesoraco was not only his power, but his ability to draw a decent amount of walks while maintaining a good contact rate. If you're looking for a silver lining to 2012, it's that he walked at a reasonable enough rate and didn't get eaten alive by strikeouts. Yeah, that's all I got.

So Mesoraco's 2012 was pretty much a waste. That doesn't mean it's time to give up on him. Since the Reds sent Grandal away, it shows how much they have invested in Mesoraco, and they'll make every attempt to see that he succeeds. Despite his rotten year, the only thing standing in his way is Hanigan, who is no one's idea of a star. Mesoraco still has the tools and the defensive rep to be a plus catcher in the majors. There's simply too much potential here that would be squandered by having Mesoraco ride the pine as a backup. Expect the Reds to give him every opportunity to take hold of the starting job next year.

He now stands to get the short end of the stick as far as playing time goes, but the Reds will likely give him another shot to win the lion's share of the catching platoon in the spring. He'll be a sleeper favorite on draft day and he's a great late pick in NL-only leagues. He plays in a great ballpark for power hitters and I think we'll see more of that home run potential manifest itself as he adjusts more to major league pitching in his second year. Better things await. Let's just pretend this little blip (and this bit of ugliness) never happened.

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