When the Cincinnati Reds signed 34-year-old catcher Miguel Olivo to a minor-league contract earlier this month, many fans who follow the team immediately wondered if Dusty Baker would strike again.
Baker, who has managed multiple clubs to post-season baseball but has never won a World Series, has built a rather poor reputation among baseball scribes who don’t cover the sport like their calendars still read 1986. Those same writers, and fans of the teams he’s had control over, will be quick to point out his downfalls–for instance, his infatuation with sacrifice bunting, mismanaging bullpens and starting under-performing veterans over younger players.
The latter is what Baker has seemingly laid the foundation on, despite the fact that spring training just started.
“You’re deciding on if we keep (Devin) Mesoraco or if you keep a guy like Olivo,” Baker said when asked if Olivo was in the hunt to be Cincinnati’s backup catcher. “The guy has a lot of experience. The one drawback is he’s non-roster. You would really have to play your way on for you to take somebody else off and expose him. He’s super strong with a real good throwing arm. I’ve known him a long time. He brings a lot of energy to the game, to the ballpark.”
Olivo, despite his vast amount of experience, only managed to walk seven times in 323 plate appearances last season for the Seattle Mariners. He’s so allergic to free passes that he once didn’t even realize he drew a walk in the first place. While he does carry some occasional power, Olivo has a career OBP (On-Base Percentage) of .275 and has never batted over .270 in his 11 seasons.
Even with a profile that practically screams minor-leaguer, Baker has made it clear Olivo can be the backup over Mesoraco.
Mesoraco saw his first extended period of time at the Big League level last season for Cincinnati and it was a rather underwhelming debut. The young backstop put together a .212/.288/.352 slash line (Batting average, OBP, Slugging Percentage) in 2012. However, he played in just 54 games, racking up only 184 plate appearances playing in the same role he’s battling for now.
The once-top catching prospect in all of baseball had a relatively short leash with Baker. Mesoraco routinely played in 1-2 games a week for the Reds, catching only certain pitchers while Ryan Hanigan was behind the plate for the rest–a baffling move from a team that traded away another highly regarded catching prospect in Yasmani Grandal before last season.
Yes, Cincinnati was well in contention for the playoffs last year like they will be again in 2013, but if they (mostly Baker) expect Mesoraco to develop as a player, he must receive more playing time, even if that means absorbing the bumps in the road that come with younger players.
I’ve never heard of a major leaguer winning games due to the energy he brings to the ballpark, but I have seen what a potential 20-25 home run bat behind the plate can do for a club’s success. Mesoraco has that.
Brandon Curry is an MLB contributor for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry