For years, the Cincinnati Reds have been searching for a spark and an identity — a search that ultimately cost Dusty Baker his job as manager. When general manager Walt Jocketty and new coach Bryan Price chose to trade catcher Ryan Hanigan in an effort to allow the Devin Mesoraco era to begin, it was a public display of their faith in the potential of the young catcher and his impact on the team.
It is now arguably a Reds era with the most potential since the 1970s.
When Mesoraco was drafted out of Punxsutawney High School in the first round of the 2007 draft, the Reds saw potential for a solid catcher to build their team around — both defensively and offensively. It was this potential that had the Reds’ organization foaming at the mouth. It’s that type of potential this team had lacked behind the plate since Johnny Bench last played in 1983.
Since that season, the position behind the plate had been a revolving door of stopgap players such as Alex Trevino, Brook Fordyce and Paul Bako. In fact, the Reds employed over 40 different catchers in failed attempts to replace the greatest catcher of all time since Bench’s last day.
What the Reds and their fans are seeing now is the potential that has instilled confidence in the 25-year-old Mesoraco. For the first time in his major league career, Mesoraco is no longer having to look over his shoulder in fear of being replaced by a veteran — and that sense of confidence is more evident than ever.
In 2014, Mesoraco’s stat line is insane since starting the year on the disabled list. Take a look at these numbers (which also currently include a cool 10-game hitting streak):
- AVG: .541
- OBP: .571
- SLG: .946
- OPS: 1.517
- HITS: 20
- HR: 3
- RBI: 12
- RUNS: 8
In fact, these numbers don’t quite show everything. What has been impressive has not just been the hits collected by Mesoraco, but rather the way in which his production has been delivered. Take a look at his “clutch” statistics compared to the team as a whole:
Two outs, RISP:
- Mesoraco: .667 AVG, HR, five RBI, .750 OBP (4 Plate Appearances)
- Team: .208 AVG, five HR, 20 RBI, .313 OBP (83 PAs)
- Mesoraco: .571 AVG, HR, three RBI, .625 OBP (8 PAs)
- Team: .254 AVG, four HR, 17 RBI, .332 OBP (204 PAs)
- Mesoraco: .500 AVG, two HR, four RBI, .579 OBP (19 PAs)
- Team: .226 AVG, 12 HR, 36 RBI, .300 OBP (454 PAs)
- Mesoraco: .500 AVG, three HR, nine RBI, .560 OBP (25 PAs)
- Team: .239 AVG, 15 HR, 47 RBI, .308 OBP (528 PAs)
Where the Reds have struggled mightily, “clutch” at bats with runners in scoring position, Mesoraco has excelled. His success has propelled the success of the entire team.
Need more proof?
Games without Mesoraco:
- 3-6 record
- 22 runs scored
Games with Mesoraco:
- 5-4 record
- 54 runs scored
What Mesoraco is bringing to this team is exactly what the lineup has been missing for years — stability behind the plate, both defensively and offensively. As his production continues, expect to see the Pennsylvania-native slowly penciled in higher in the batting order. His success will continue to have ripple effects throughout the entire lineup.
For example, if Mesoraco were to be batting third tonight, we can all agree that there is no pitching around Joey Votto in the two-hole by Pittsburgh. This allows the former MVP to see vastly more hittable pitches than before.
Now if Votto and Mesoraco are both lurking behind Billy Hamilton in the lineup (as well as in the minds of opposing pitchers), that in turn increases the likelihood of the speedster receiving better pitches to hit. And if Hamilton reaches base, the opportunities are endless for Votto and Mesoraco.
Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the pressure it would take away from Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick.
Of course, one can argue that we are dealing with a small sample size that does not accurately represent the argument. However, this trend with Mesoraco began last season when he was given the starter’s role by default following the injury to Hanigan.Yet it was also a trend that was evident during his non-injury plagued years in the minors.
The Reds have been in search of a big-hitting (yet stable) bat to provide protection in their lineup for years, and they may have found it in the dark abyss that had eluded them for three decades — the position behind the plate.