One of the best things about baseball is its inherent uncertainty. While statistical analysis has gone a long way to changing how we view and value the events that make up the game of baseball, there is still a measure of uncertainty. And, a bit of uncertainty makes the game fun. It's a bit ironic that as statistical analysis improves our understanding and valuation of the game, it also threatens to eliminate the mystery that helps make it special. Fortunately, the human element of the game will never be completely understood or predicted, because it would be pretty boring if all the organizations had perfect knowledge of players and their future career arcs. There are definite trends around which events gravitate and cluster, but the outliers and unexpected happenings that make baseball fun remain.
For example, position player prospects typically follow a rather standard linear development curve. It almost seems as if trend line has its own gravity, pulling any potential outliers back into conformance. Typically, either position prospects conform to the develop trend line or they cease to be prospects. Typically, they gradually progress up the ladder making incremental improvements in their game along the way to perform up to the level of the competition. However, every once in a while, a player completely defies the trend, seemingly coming out of nowhere.
A prime example is Devin Mesoraco, whose 2010 story is truly remarkable. Most, if not all, of the professional pundits were writing Mesoraco off, which isn't all that surprising considering his professional production prior to this year:
Now, he's absolutely crushing the ball to the tune of .316/.387/.603/.989. Mesoraco has unlocked his true potential with the help of good health and the wisdom that comes from struggle and experience. Additionally, he may have finally caught up to the aggressive, fast-track development program that the Reds have placed him on. Right now, Mesoraco is proving that the Reds were right to select him in the first round.
In my 2010 prospect rankings, I had Mesoraco at #16. While his pre-2010 production was never impressive, the peripherals were always relatively strong and gave reason for optimism. Additionally, Mesoraco was always going to need a longer development curve, as he was a cold weather high school prospect who missed time due to Tommy John surgery. He was at a position that required more development time than most and yet brought less experience with him to the professional ranks than normal. In short, even the best case scenario was going to involve a lot of games and at bats in the minors.
In the write-up, I stated that for me the statute of limitations on the opinion of Mesoraco as a potential impact talent was one more year. If he didn't put it together in 2010, he was going to slide off my rankings entirely. Fortunately, he is putting it all together and his 20 homeruns have put to rest my question of whether his swing would enable him to generate significant power. At this point, the power seems to be legit.
It's not a stretch to say that Mesoraco is probably the biggest surprise in all of the minor leagues, as he's gone from afterthought/irrelevant to elite/impact in a matter of mere months. And, he's bucked conventional player development ideas and trends to do it, which makes it all the more satisfying for its unexpectedness.
Additionally, Mesoraco's emergence also highlights an interesting and important organizational trend. Take a look:
2010 - Yasmani Grandal, c
2009 - Mike Leake, rhp
2008 - Yonder Alonso, 1b
2007 - Devin Mesoraco, c
2006 - Drew Stubbs, cf
2005 - Jay Bruce, of
2004 - Homer Bailey, rhp
What's missing from this list?
Looking back all the way to 2004, it's rather difficult to consider any of the Reds' first round draft picks a mistake. There's simply no bust on the list. Sure, you can quibble about the massive opportunity cost that came along with the Drew Stubbs selection, but it seems unlikely that any of the these picks are going to flame out and be a huge bust. Mesoraco was the question mark, but as his performance continues over a larger and larger sample size, it's getting more and more difficult to forecast significant regression. Neither Yonder nor Grandal have proven enough to consider them locks, but they are polished college prospects who have much shorter development curves than other prospects, which makes them much lower risk.
All in all, it's been a very strong 7 years for the Reds, who are entitled to take a bow for their strong work. The first round is obviously the best opportunity to land impact talent, but the flame out rate is also higher than might be expected. For the Reds to land a likely impact talent in 7 straight drafts is a pretty extraordinary achievement, especially for a team that previously struggled so mightily in the draft, to say the least:
2003 - Ryan Wagner, rhp
2002 - Chris Gruler, rhp
2001 - Jeremy Sowers, lhp
2000 - David Espinosa, inf
1999 - Ty Howington, lhp
1998 - Austin Kearns, of
1997 - Brandon Larson, inf
1996 - John Oliver, of
1995 - --none--
1994 - C.J. Nitkowski, lhp
1993 - Pat Watkins, of
1992 - Chad Mottola, of
It has taken an absurdly long time to undue the damage done to the scouting department by the frugal and tightfisted Marge Schott, who famously gutted the scouting budget after stating that she wasn't willing to pay people simply to watch games. She decided that the better option was to plow all the money into the MLB roster, which enabled the team to find short-term success. However, this short-term success was actually accomplished by shifting a massive cost onto the back of future Reds teams. By neglecting the farm system, more resources could be poured into the 25-man roster, but it came at the expense of the future as the flow of cost effective, homegrown talent inevitably dried up.
At this point, the future is clearly bright for both Mesoraco and the Reds, as each has managed to make a complete 180 degree turn from their established performance level to get back on track. Mesoraco has stepped forward to give the Reds another potential impact prospect in their system and could easily be playing his way into the Reds major league plans for 2011.
The emergence of Devin Mesoraco when coupled with the selection of Yasmani Grandal gives the Reds two potential "catchers of the future" where a few short months earlier there had been none. The Reds system continues to get deeper and more productive, which makes the team's strong performance at the MLB this year look more and more sustainable.