Today's prospect comparison pits two top prospects who bear the tools of ignorance. Both Devin Mesoraco and Travis D'Arnaud sit atop their respective teams prospect charts (according to Baseball America) and are coming off extremely strong 2011 seasons.
This may be off topic, but I have seen a lot of "February sucks" floating around the interwebs, with much of it focused on the 14th. Well let me say this about February 14th: The Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers will have been working out for THREE DAYS by that point. As far as I'm concerned, that dreaded day can't arrive too soon. Enough small talk though, lets get down to brass tacks.
Devin Mesoraco - C - Reds - Signed for $1.4 million as the 15th overall in 2007, Mesoraco took his time maturing as a baseball player, much like a fine wine (note: author knows nothing about wine). Though he struggled through his first three professional seasons, the Reds continued to push him and move him on up the organizational ladder. The decision paid off handsomely when Mesoraco improved his conditioning and exploded for a .335/.414/.620 slash line in Hi-A, reaching as high as Triple-A, and he hasn't looked back. Mesoraco returned to Triple-A for a full season in 2011 and posted an 855 OPS (.289/.371/.484 slash) and a terrific .195 ISO, displaying the above-average power potential that he possesses. Mesoraco does his damage by using above-average batspeed to turn on the inside pitch and drive it out of the park. If he has opposite field power, he's yet to display it as every home run in 2011 came to his pull side. What he can do however is take the outside pitch up the middle, which is what enables him to attain solid batting averages. He pairs his hitting ability with a good knowledge of the strike zone enabling him to wait on his pitch and drive it. He generated a 10.4% walk rate in Triple-A last year, and that was consistent with his walk rates in previous years. On defense Mesoraco has been inconsistent, but the tools are there for him to be average to slightly above. He has struggled receiving velocity at times, though he did have a finger injury that played at least a part in his struggles. While we're on the topic, injuries have been Mesoraco's Achilles heel in the past two years. He has been nagged by hand and finger impediments, though he rarely has missed time due to them. The Reds are enamored of his makeup and won't be afraid to challenge him with starting responsibilities as soon as 2012. He started a majority of the last three weeks of the season following his call-up in September. Mesoraco should make the Reds roster out of spring training and I wouldn't hesitate to include him on my team. He's used to adversity and knows how to respond so I am a bit less worried about his rookie status than I would be otherwise.
Travis D'Arnaud - C - Blue Jays - Scouts have loved D'Arnaud for years, though his production as recently as 2009-2010 didn't quite warrant it. Well, he proved them right in 2011, breaking out behind a .311/.371/.542 slash line and a stunning .231 ISO. He led the league in slugging percentage, and despite playing in a hitter friendly park, he actually slugged higher (.571) on the road. D'Arnaud uses a compact swing to spray the ball to all fields, allowing him to hit for average as well as power. He is able to hit for power due to his above-average batspeed and quick hands, though his power will likely top out between 20-25 home runs. Since being traded to Toronto as part of the Roy Halladay trade, D'Arnaud has seen his strikeout rate increase to 21.5% while never topping 16% in Philadelphia's system. This may seem alarming, but it's not an erosion of skills so much as a change in developmental philosophy between the two organizations, and one could hardly argue with the results after last year. He was also rated as the top defensive catcher by the managers in the best Eastern League despite only throwing out 27% of basestealers, highlighting that his production continues to lag behind his tools in some area. D'Arnaud displays a strong arm and good agility behind the plate, so his struggles are due more to maintaining consistent throwing mechanics - something that should come with time and repetition. D'Arnaud earned the Eastern League MVP while helping to deliver a championship for Double-A New Hampshire, leaving nothing for him to return to in Double-A. While he may not be ready for the majors just yet - and the Jays have a serviceable option in J.P. Arencibia at the moment - D'Arnaud should be ready to challenge for the starting job as soon as Spring Training 2013. The only thing that I could anticipate delaying his arrival is an injury, as he has been susceptible to them over his career, and underwent thumb surgery in October 2011 to mend a torn ligament he suffered at the Baseball World Cup.
These are two strikingly similar prospects, from their ability to provide above average hit and power tools from a position where you rarely get the former and generally get the latter at a steep cost to your batting average, right down to their ability to pick up nagging injuries. Similar to the comparison involving Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon, I don't think you can go wrong here. Both of these guys have impressed with tools and production and both are not far off from the majors (or IN the majors in Mesoraco's case). I don't think there's a need to choose one over the other, though if you are in a position to do so, go with Mesoraco because he'll give you major league value immediately. D'Arnaud is worthy of a first round minor league draft pick in any deep league, and should go in the first two rounds in 10- or 12-team leagues. In a world where Buster Posey generated so much buzz, these two should provide similar long term value, taking some off the average and adding a bit in the power category. What else can I say regarding these two? Draft and enjoy...