Could Brayan Pena Push Devin Mesoraco For Cincinnati Reds' No. 1 Catcher Job?

By Thom Tsang
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Just how many chances will Devin Mesoraco get with the Cincinnati Reds?

He is just 25-years old, but the former 15th overall pick is now fully transitioned from the “hyped top prospect” part of his career to the “post-hype breakout candidate” phase, and you already know the ugly B-word that comes after that if he’s still unable to make an impact. The talented young backstop is far from done, of course, but you’d have to think that the Reds’ patience will run out at some point.

It’s too bad really, because 2013 was probably his best chance to solidify his future with the team yet.

With Dusty Baker‘s favorite handcuff Ryan Hanigan being out for a large chunk of the season and struggling mightily when he was healthy enough to suit up, Mesoraco got the most sustained big league playing time in his career, recording 352 PA over 103 games … and failed to impress for the most part with a 0.4 fWAR season.

There were flashes of his offensive skill as expected (.294/.329/.441 triple-slash in July, and he does own a decent 0.39 BB/K ratio) and his defense improved to 6.6 defensive runs above average, but they were overshadowed by consistent struggles at the plate, and he ended up with a fairly dismal .238/.287/.362 triple-slash, having topped .700 OPS in just two months out of the year.

Well, the Reds are undeterred. They saw the improvements with the glove and in the line drive rate (career-high 21.1 percent in 2013), and with the acquisition of  Brayan Pena, Mesoraco is poised to get another shot as the main man.

That said, could the former Detroit Tigers backup be more than that in 2014? Assuming that Ryan Hanigan is the odd man out (which is more likely than the team pulling the plug on Mesoraco), the idea would be for the slightly cheaper Pena to serve in a similar support role, spelling Mesoraco where needed.

And if you were going by the 2013 numbers, that role fits pretty perfectly in the form of a platoon. Where that Mesoraco only posted a .576 OPS over 245 PA against righties and .874 against lefties in over 78 PA,  the 31-year-old Pena showed an opposite .801/.608 OPS split vs. RHP/LHP (123 and 106 PA respectively) in 2013.

That’s all fine and well, but as you already know, these numbers suggest a platoon where the support player should really be the young Mesoraco, not the newcomer Pena.

Now, that’s almost certainly not going to happen on paper at the onset of the 2014 season, and it’s probably not too much to look into given that Pena has been an underwhelming career backup with a .651 OPS and -0.4 fWAR through 406 games in the bigs. In fact, it’s probably a pretty big stretch to say that he’ll be even that close to how good Hanigan has been prior to this season, let alone good enough to push Mesoraco for the no. 1 job.

Then again, it’s hard to say that the Reds haven’t been cognizant of the worst-case scenario should the Mesoraco era end up failing either; and I mean … it’s not like the kid’s career been outstanding (.641 OPS over 589 PA), you know?

So while it might seem like the acquisition of the switch-hitting Pena is a relatively inconsequential move, with an end goal of being able to trade Hanigan and get something for him before the veteran becomes a free agent in 2015, the table has been set for the backup’s tenure behind the plate in Cincinnati to become much more interesting.

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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