When Devin Mesoraco dreams, he probably dreams of World Series titles and the future Mrs. Mesoraco (a cursory Google search indicates he is not married; if he is, my apologies to the current Mrs. Mesoraco). But when Devin Mesoraco has nightmares, they must be of the Reds re-hiring Dusty Baker and trading back for Ryan Hanigan.
Mesoraco turns 26 in June, and has basically one season's worth of plate appearances in his three years in the majors. He hasn't hit well in his career thus far - a 70 career wRC+, only a .282 on-base percentage - but he also hasn't had the full-time play to build on. In 2014, with Baker and Hanigan both gone, and only Brayan Pena around to catch games in Mesoraco's stead, the job is (finally?) his.
Here's the thing - it's easy to make jokes about Baker being anti-young player. There's certainly evidence supporting that point. And with a player like Mesoraco, it's hard to ever know for sure whether he can hit in the bigs until he gets a chance to hit in the bigs. But if Baker wanted to make a statistical argument against Mesoraco, it wouldn't be a hard one to make.
Mesoraco was drafted out of high school in 2007, the Reds' first-round pick and 15th overall. And then, for the next two and a half seasons, he did nothing in the minors. Like, nothing. He carried a .240/.311/.368 slash line through rookie and A-ball, with 18 home runs in 846 plate appearances, all while being a fine age for his level. It wasn't until 2010 - split across four levels of the minors - that Mesoraco seemed to remember his first-round pedigree, and he put up a .302/.377/.587, with 26 homers in 519 PAs.
Even after those struggles through the minors, there was enough in Mesoraco's pedigree and his bright spots that he came in at No. 31 in ESPN's Keith Law's top 100 prospects piece from 2011. We all waited expectantly for his arrival in the bigs and his production that was sure to follow.
That was when Baker and Hanigan took over, relegating Mesoraco to Cincinnati afterthought until 2013, when he finally led the team in catcher starts, thanks in part to a couple of DL stints for Hanigan. Plus side: It was Mesoraco's best year. Down side: It was Mesoraco's best year. It was Mesoraco's best year, and it included a 74 wRC+.
So far, the catcher has shown little (if I'm being generous) ability to do anything against right-handers. In 137 plate appearances against lefties, he's put up a .312 average with an .837 OPS. Switch the pitcher around, and he's sitting at .199/.257/.324. That's 452 plate appearances of "Dude, maybe you should have gone into medicine or something." Those numbers improved in 2012, but there's still a long way to go for him to get to decent. Heck, the best the Red Reporter blog could come up with as a glass-half-full for Mesoraco was "What if he gets better along the same path he did in the minors?" I mean, points for optimism, sure, but if that's the best you can hang your hat on for the guy, maybe you want a better backup than Brayan Pena for his first year as a starter?
Law, that prognosticator who ranked Mesoraco so highly three years ago, said in his chat just last week that, while he still envisions success for Mesoraco eventually, he "may need a year or two" of everyday playing time to realize whatever potential he might have left.
Mesoraco is likely to be a trendy sleeper pick in deeper leagues this year. Owners who don't want to burn an early pick on a Buster Posey or a Joe Mauer and miss out on the Salvador Perez types might shrug it off because hey, Devin Mesoraco just needs a full-time job and he'll produce.
Sure, it's easy to chalk up Mesoraco's lack of playing time in the past to Dusty Baker. Just beware that it might not have been all the old manager's doing. There's a heck of a chance the player being benched just wasn't quite ready yet.