It was supposed to be so easy.
On one hand, there was then 31-year-old Ryan Hanigan: a steady veteran with a good eye and little power and no one’s idea of a star. On the other hand, there’s Devin Mesoraco, the 24-year-old former 14th-overall pick who’d been the Cincinnati Reds‘ top prospect and one of the top prospects–catcher or otherwise–in the game going into 2012.
Even with Dusty Baker and his penchant for sticking with his veterans, there wasn’t going to much of a contest. Hanigan and the power-hitting Mesoraco would start the season sharing time, but it wouldn’t be very long before the super-rookie took over full time with his power bat and defense.
Well, that’s why they have that saying about the best-laid plans.
Mesoraco was given 48 starts in 2012, and seldom hit like he was supposed to in almost all of them. He finished his August off with a dismal .210/.287/.352 triple-slash and then capped it by flipping out and getting suspended for bumping into a MLB umpire. The Reds demoted him to AAA after that and did not give him another start even after he came back in September, opting instead to put Dioner Navarro–the third-string catcher–in front of him. Needless to say, the team left the rookie off the playoff roster.
As the Reds look to defend their NL Central crown in 2013, they will go into the same season with the same kind of question at catcher: do they play Mesoraco, who is the team’s future at backstop? Or do they stay with Hanigan?
This time, Mesoraco is going in as a backup, and is going to have to step up and grab the job from Hanigan, who will likely continue to hit as he did. That’s one of the perils for playing for a contender and Mesoraco is going to have to take advantage of every chance he gets, but he probably won’t get as many as he did last season.
Though the second-year catcher’s numbers were all-around terrible last season, they are not without signs of hope. Meso’s five homers in 184 PA suggest that the power is still alive and well and the 0.52 BB/K indicates that he was also able to keep his strikeouts in check with a decent walk rate, as opposed to being totally lost. You could also read what you will into his .308/.341/.462 triple-slash against lefties, but the overall picture looks like a player who still has the ability to put the whole picture together.
Mesoraco still has the skills to be a star in this league one day, but whether he’ll be given the time to do so next season is in doubt. These things take time: even Matt Wieters hit just .249 with a .695 OPS in a full season on the road to becoming the player he is today.
Will Dusty Baker and the Reds have the kind of patience to stick with Mesoraco through the ups-and-downs in 2013? Can they afford to?
A strong showing in spring training will go a long way into getting back into the time share arrangement that he had last season, but the odds, for once, are against the former top prospect this time.