Mesoraco a catch in Reds' Top 10 Prospect list
Fast-rising catcher could be ready for big league action in 2011
The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at the top 10 prospects from each farm system, with only those who still maintain rookie status entering 2011 being eligible.
Devin Mesoraco got good at filling out change-of-address cards during the 2010 season.
He began the year in Lynchburg, Va., went to Zebulon, N.C., in late May and then finished in Louisville, Ky. It turned out that the increasing level of baseball wasn't the biggest challenge for the 2007 first-round pick.
"I think on-the-field stuff, whenever you're moving, up is the easiest part," said Mesoraco, No. 45 on MLB.com's Top 50 list and No. 5 among all catching prospects. "That stuff is easy to concentrate on. It's the other stuff -- as far as finding a place to live, getting acquainted with your new teammates, just driving to the different areas because the teams are pretty far apart. It's a lot of stuff you have to deal with, and then there's the baseball aspect. It was a good experience and I'm just happy with the way it went."
It went like many expected it would when he was one of the more intriguing all-around high school players in the '07 First-Year Player Draft. But Mesoraco struggled with injuries and his performance for much of the first two full seasons of his career. Last year, it started to click and he began to show what he could do -- from the 26 homers and .587 slugging percentage to the 41 percent success rate in throwing out baserunners -- when things were going right.
"I think coming into the year, I had a better understanding of how things worked, what I had to do to prepare for each game, each at-bat," Mesoraco said. "I got off to a good start and I think that was most of it. Things just kept going on from there."
Like many young backstops, Mesoraco still needs to improve on his receiving skills. Nuances like calling a game and dealing with the better stuff that comes from arms at the higher levels are still a work in progress. That's largely why he went to the Arizona Fall League after all of his travels in 2010. And while he was charged with 10 passed balls in 18 games, he thinks the work he did there should carry over as he's knocking on the door in Cincinnati.
"The thing I took most out of the Arizona Fall League was working with the different pitchers, working with the different pitching coaches," Mesoraco said. "Going out there, it was giving me a new perspective on different things, whether it's on how to call a game or how to approach the pitchers. I think I struggled with that a little bit at the beginning. As things progressed, you sort of understood how to control the personalities. It comes down to doing whatever you can to help the ballclub and I think I have a better understanding now."
Reds' Top 10 Prospects
1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP: The No. 6 prospect on the Top 50 list, and No. 1 among all left-handed pitching prospects, Chapman is ready to bring his triple-digit fastball to the big leagues full-time. His plus slider complements the heater very well -- all that he needs to be a dominant reliever, his role in 2011 at the very least.
2. Yonder Alonso, 1B: Finally healthy, Alonso (No. 5 among first base prospects) took off in the second half last year, hitting .335/.415/.561 after the All-Star break and his Futures Game appearance. There's a small roadblock at first base in Cincinnati, in the form of Joey Votto, so it remains to be seen how the Reds will find a place for Alonso's bat, which could be ready, in their lineup.
3. Devin Mesoraco, C: He can hit for average and power, and his plus arm allows him to shut down a running game. He'll head to Triple-A to work on his overall catching game, but don't be surprised to see him in Cincinnati at some point this year.
4. Billy Hamilton, 2B/SS: No. 3 on the Top 10 second-base prospect list, that's the position Hamilton will likely play more of as he hits full-season ball. He might be the fastest guy in the Minors and knows how to use his speed (48 steals in 69 games). He also knows he's a leadoff-type and has plate discipline way beyond his years. He could take the Class A Midwest League by storm in 2011.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
5. Yorman Rodriguez, OF: Everyone should make plans to go to Dayton in 2011 because there may not be a more dynamic duo than Hamilton and this teenage outfielder. He's got all the tools you could ask for, and he's just figuring out how to use them. When all is said and done, he could be the prototypical five-tool right fielder.
6. Yasmani Grandal, C: Taken No. 12 overall in last June's Draft, Grandal got a big league deal and was in Major League camp for his first Spring Training. A natural leader behind the plate, he's a slightly better defender than Mesoraco all-around but not as good a hitter. He does have pretty good pop, though. Starting in the Class A California League, Grandal could move quickly, giving the Reds a very nice problem to have.
7. Todd Frazier, 3B/OF: The 2007 supplemental first-rounder has always been a solid, if unspectacular, hitter on his way up the ladder, though he scuffled a bit in Triple-A in 2010. The real issue is finding a defensive home for him as he's largely blocked at third, outfield and at first, where he's also seen time. A future as a super-utility guy may be in the offing, where his offensive skills can be moved around from position to position.
8. Brad Boxberger, RHP: When Boxberger came out of the University of Southern California in 2009, there were questions about whether he'd be a starter or reliever long-term. Those still haven't been answered because he started well in the Carolina League but fell apart in Double-A as a reliever. He's got the power arm that might work well in short relief but the arsenal to be a starter if he can work out the kinks. He'll do that back in Double-A to start the year.
9. Juan Francisco, 3B: Francisco and Alonso make for a terrific corner-infield pair of blocked prospects. Francisco has outstanding power, though his overall hitting ability remains somewhat in question. His arm works well from third and he's played a little left field, but he, Alonso and even Frazier are all in the same boat.
10. Zack Cozart, SS: Shortstops who can play the position, hit for some power and steal bases aren't exactly a dime a dozen. He may never hit for a high average, but his other skills should make up for that. Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria are in the way, but Cozart could force his way into that spot at some point this season.
Under the Radar
Matt Klinker, RHP: In 2009, Klinker pitched at three levels and seemed to get better as he went up the ladder. Last year, he started in Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit a bit of a wall. Still, he topped the organization in wins and strikeouts while finishing sixth in ERA. Now 26, he did get a non-roster invite to camp and the 2007 15th-rounder will likely go back to Louisville, ready to help when called.
Dave Sappelt, OF: A guy who earns MLB.com's organizational hitter of the year honors shouldn't be under the radar, but the 2008 ninth-rounder still is. He played at three levels in 2010, finished with an astounding .342/.395/.507 line along with 25 steals. Then he hit well in the Arizona Fall League and Venezuela. He's been impressing as a non-roster invitee in camp this spring and could knock on the door very soon.
Hitter of the Year -- Billy Hamilton, 2B
The transition to full-season ball won't be too tough for the speedy leadoff hitter, who will challenge for the Minor League lead in stolen bases while also finishing on the leaderboard for average and on-base percentage.
Pitcher of the Year -- Brad Boxberger
Whether he stays in the rotation or finds a home in short relief, Boxberger will make adjustments and figure out Double-A hitters in 2011. He'll continue his 10.8 K/9 ratio and then some, all while limiting hits, be it in the rotation or closing games.