Height 6-1, Weight 200, B/T: R/R, DOB: 6/19/1988
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #8
Devin Mesoraco was part of the new Reds draft philosophy, which placed renewed emphasis on players at premier positions. Mesoraco was drafted with the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft to fill the gaping hole behind the dish that has plagued the Reds over the past decade or so. Mesoraco was drafted on the basis of his impressive athleticism and raw tools, but he needs to continue to refine those tools into baseball skills.
After spending the 2007 season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, the Reds kept Mesoraco in extended spring training to begin the 2008 season. Early speculation was that he would be sent to the rookie Pioneer League, but Mesoraco showed enough in extended spring training to convince the Reds to send him to low-A Dayton.
Mesoraco immediately justified the organization's confidence in him by hitting .286/.357/.444 in 70 plate appearances in May. He performed well at the plate in the first three months of the season, but he tailed off badly in August, in which he posted a lackluster .216/.266/.307. Obviously, the physical strain of his first full professional season caught up to him in the dog days of summer, but it was a fairly successful year for Mesoraco. Overall, he posted a line of .261/.311/.399/.710 with 13 doubles, 1 triple, 9 homers, and a 64/20 K/BB ratio in 331 PAs. His components weren't bad either, as he hit line drives 14% of the time and had a BABIP of .304. Ideally, he'll increase his line drive rate and decrease his 51% GB% as he continues to gain more experience and physical strength at the professional level.
While some have been disappointed in Mesoraco's 2008 season, it's important to put it in the proper context. To start, the development curve for a high school catcher is long and arduous. Catchers have to learn the nuances of calling a game, familiarize themselves with the pitching staff, and in their free time squeeze in time to learn how to hit professional pitching. It's a challenging development curve and, not surprisingly, catchers frequently move much more slowly up the ladder than other position prospects.
So, even in the best of circumstances, a high school catcher is looking at a long development process, but there are two other factors working to lengthen his development curve even further. First, Mesoraco played high school baseball in Pennsylvania, which is a cold weather climate. Simply put, players who attend schools in cold weather climates simply don't get the opportunity to play as much baseball as those who attend warm weather schools. Second, Mesoraco was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery as a sophomore in high school, so he missed considerable development time during the injury and subsequent rehabilitation. Not only was Mesoraco already facing a lengthy development curve due to the position he played, but it's likely to be even longer due to the game experience he lost because of injury and cold weather.
Clearly, Mesoraco has a long road to travel to the majors, but placing too much emphasis on his early struggles may ultimately prove to be shortsighted.
Last year's report discussed his hitting mechanics and his active lower body action. As an amateur player, Mesoraco utilized very little forward stride, choosing instead to lift his front foot up and placing it right back down. In order to get his weight moving forward to meet the pitch, Mesoraco would transfer his weight to the front foot when the pitcher began his delivery and then transfer the weight to the back foot as the pitcher got closer to releasing the ball. This mechanism allowed him to load up for the swing and get his weight moving forward without much of a forward stride.
At the professional level, it seems that the Reds have worked to eliminate some of this back-and-forth weight transfer technique. Mesoraco has quieted his lower body and increased the length of his stride, which may help lessen his tendency to get too far out on the front foot. Mesoraco has good natural strength, but it hasn't translated to homerun power at the plate. Mesoraco has good tools, but he's still raw at the plate and will need to continue working on his swing and approach.
You can compare the MLB draft video for Mesoraco with the above youtube clip.
BAD LOWER BODY WEIGHT
This offseason, I've actually been taking a more in-depth look at catching prospects, which was inspired in part by a recent write up by John Sickels in which he reviewed his past rankings of catching prospects to see how their respective careers turned out.
One of the phenomenon he identified was what he called "Young Catcher Stagnation Syndrome." As he states, it's more of a description than an explanation, but the theory is that young catchers frequently fail to develop offensively because of the physical stress of playing the position.
While it's definitely too soon to see it happening with Mesoraco, it's something to keep an eye on. Especially in light of Mesoraco's thumb injuries, which is the type of problem that could crop up again and hinder his development at the plate.
On the plus side, Sickels found that the best young catchers in the Majors today, Joe Mauer and Brian McCann, were drafted out of high school. Of the ten best catchers in baseball, only Chris Iannetta and Kurt Suzuki were college draft picks. So, it's possible that there are advantages for catching prospects who get into the professional ranks as early as possible, because the development curve for catchers is quite long. However, it may be nothing more than a small sample size, as Matt Wieters and Buster Posey are on the horizon and both were selected out of the college ranks.
Another interesting issue that I've noticed that can hinder catcher development is bad body weight. Perhaps due to the unique physical demands of the catcher position, it seems that young catchers have a greater tendency to add weight to their lower half. Obviously, to withstand the rigors of catching and the toll it can take on the knees, it's important to have strong leg muscles. However, more than any other position, it seems that the weight that catchers add ends up in the lower body. It's bad body weight because it can rob them of agility and quickness. The legs get thicker and heavier, which reduces lateral movement behind the plate, slows footwork on throws, and, quite simply, seems to rob them of some explosiveness.
Below, you can see Mesoraco in high school in the photo on the left and with the Dayton Dragons in 2008 in the photo on the right. Now, quite obviously, everyone is going to fill out after high school, so it's hardly unexpected. However, some scouts think he added some bad body weight in 2008 and these pictures do reveal a somewhat stockier Mesoraco. Projecting players is difficult enough as it is, but factoring in physical development adds yet another layer of unpredictability to catcher projection. It's too soon to definitively state that this will be a problem for Mesoraco, but it's something that bears watching, especially since he was highly touted for his athleticism and anything that would diminish it is detrimental.
Mesoraco is an interesting prospect, but one with both potentially significant positives and negatives. The question is what will win out? His raw athleticism and myriad of tools? Or, his inexperience, injury problems, and lower body weight? It's far too soon to tell, as the development curve for high school catchers is longer and more volatile than that of any other type of baseball prospect.
When he was drafted, I thought Mesoraco's ceiling was that of Russ Martin, but he already seems to have lost a bit of explosiveness. His upside is still considerable, but he'll need to make some adjustments in 2009 in order to continue to climb the ladder. That said, his work ethic is solid and his makeup is good, so he has the intangibles needed to refine his game and reach his ceiling. Mesoraco's upside is considerable and he has all the tools to be an All Star, so for now he checks in at #7 on the list.