Daily Archives: June 11, 2011
Saturday June 11, 2011
MLB reports: With catching at an all-time premium in baseball, few teams are lucky to have one, let alone two solid catchers in its system. The Cincinnati Reds have an abundance of riches at the position, with two serviceable catchers on its major league roster and two of the brightest catching prospects in its lower levels. For all the talk of the New York Yankees and Montero, Sanchez and all of its up-and-coming catching prospects, a look to the future catching superstars of Major League Baseball points to Cincinnati.
Top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco stands 6’1″ and weighs a very solid 220 lbs. Only 22-years of age, Mesoraco was drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 MLB draft (15th overall). Catchers typically take longer to develop and Mesoraco has been slowed in his development by the injury bug. But despite missing many games over his short career, his bat has never slowed in the process. Last year at the tender age of 21, Mesoraco played through three levels and rose all the way to AAA. This year, in his first full turn at AAA, Mesoraco has been simply outstanding. With a .323 AVG, .407 OBP, .542 SLG, 8 home runs and 25/39 BB/K, Mesoraco has shown the MLB reports favorite hitting combination: power and patience. A lifetime .270 hitter in the minors with an .802 OPS, Mesoraco has only gotten stronger and better as he has risen through the Reds system. But not far behind him, there is another strong Reds catching prospect waiting in the wings by the name of Yasmani Grandal, as well as two existing roadblocks in Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.
Grandal is also 22-years of age. Born in Havana Cuba, he was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 27th round of the 2007 draft. After failing to sign, Grandal became the next catching 1st round pick of the Reds, being drafted 12th overall in the 2010 draft. Missing out on three years compared to Mesoraco, Grandal played eight games last year in rookie ball and currently plays high A ball in Bakersfield. With 9 home runs this year in 50 games played, combined with a .279 AVG, .878 OPS and 37/50 BB/K ratio, Grandal is proving himself to be every bit the hitter that Mesoraco is. A promotion is due shortly to AA and very soon the Reds will face a dilemma in choosing their catcher of the future. A great problem to have if you are the Cincinnati Reds, who are the envy of Major League Baseball in their ability to draft and develop talent. Grandal is also a switch-hitter to boot, which will make the Reds catching choice even that much more difficult.
Given that Mesoraco has the most experience and has played at the higher levels, he will be given the first crack at the Reds catching job. His first roadblock is veteran Ramon Hernandez, the Reds incumbent starting catcher. Hernandez at 35 should be starting to near the end of his career, having played 13 seasons for 4 different major league teams. Hernandez suffered through injuries in both the ’09 and ’10 seasons, but still received a 1-year, $3 million contract for 2011 from the Reds. Hernandez has rewarded the Reds thus far with a strong season. Hernandez on the year has hit .310, with 7 home runs and an .898 OPS. But despite his strong play, Hernandez is injury prone and has otherwise started to show a declining bat over the last couple of seasons, despite playing in a hitter’s park in Cinci. Expect an injury or slump by Hernandez to open the door for Mesoraco to get his chance sometime this year.
Ryan Hanigan, the Reds backup catcher, was signed in the offseason to a 3-year, $4 million contract. Some observers questioned the move, given the up-and-coming catchers in the Reds system. But the Reds were smart to lock-in a highly considered backup catcher to mentor their young prospects and help groom them to be possibly the next Johnny Bench. Hanigan at the age of 30, has played parts of 5 seasons for the Reds. Last year was by far his strongest campaign, with a .300 AVG and .834 OPS. For his major league career, Hanigan has a 98/77 BB/K- thus exhibiting one of the best batting eyes I have ever seen for a catcher. Despite his slow start this season, with a .248 AVG and .673 OPS, Hanigan plays strong defense and does enough offensively to ensure that he will remain as the Reds backup catcher for the foreseeable future.
With Hanigan as the backup and Hernandez playing out the string this season, we can expect to see Mesoraco make his major league debut this year. Given that he is only 22, the world should not be expected of him yet. As mentioned earlier, catchers take a lot longer to develop into complete major league players compared to other positional player. One only has to look to Baltimore, where Matt Wieters came slowly out of the gate until he started to find his way in the big leagues. While watching Buster Posey‘s run last year with the Giants was exciting, he is definitely the exception to the rule. Scouts and analysts that I have spoken to are divided on Mesoraco and Grandal. From the people that I have spoken to, there was nearly a 50/50 split on which prospect would become the future #1 catcher in Cincinnati.
A similar situation has already developed for the Reds with the blocked path for Yonder Alonso, one of the top Reds prospects still in the minors. Alonso, a first baseman by trade, has been attempting to shift to the outfield in the hopes of eventually joining the Reds. The reports that I have received are that his defense has been graded at far below average and the Reds are not comfortable calling him up as a result. With Joey Votto entrenched at first, Alonso will only make the big leagues at this point by injury or trade. With 8 home runs already on the season in AAA, to compliment his .327 AVG and .911 OPS, the 24-year old Cuban born Alonso has a major league bat. His fellow countryman Grandal may face a similar conflict in a couple of seasons. With such a strong farm system, the Reds are building themselves for a dynasty run for several years to come. The likely quarterback of the pitching staff in the near future will be Devin Mesoraco, who will also hit in the heart of a deep lineup in a great ballpark. The sky is the limit for this great prospect who is on the verge of joining the big leagues. We look forward to watching his debut very soon and hope that Mesoraco will have a long and productive career at the most demanding position in the game.
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