SARASOTA, Fla. -- Of the more than 130 teammates crammed into the Reds Minor League clubhouse, catching prospect Devin Mesoraco might have one of the cooler baseball stories to call home about.

"The other day Johnny Bench came over and talked to me," said Mesoraco during a Tuesday afternoon lunch break, still sweating from his morning workout. "Just a quick five minutes, but it means a lot coming from a guy like that."

What did Bench, a Hall of Fame catcher and member of the Reds front office, tell the first-round Draft pick (15th overall) from 2007?

"He was just looking at my gloves, checking them out to see how I'm catching," Mesoraco said. "He gave me a few tips. It was just a good experience. He's the greatest catcher of all time."

Mesoraco is experiencing Spring Training for the first time as a professional. Because he spent the winter at his home in frigid Punxsutawney, Penn., finding optimum baseball conditions to work out wasn't easy. He had to do his work indoors unlike many of his peers that live in warmer climates.

"I might be a little behind where I'd like to be right now," Mesoraco said. "But we have enough time left that I should pick some things up and get game ready. My swing is on its way, but my arm is a little sore from doing a lot of throwing. I wasn't able to get outside back home."

Going from cold to hot was one of many adjustments Mesoraco made last year during his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League in Sarasota, Fla. He also learned the grind of catching every day and played with a pair of thumb injuries that were minor, but nagged him much of the summer.

In 40 games, Mesoraco batted .219 with one home run and eight RBIs. After the season, he was ranked as the organization's sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.

"I think you can ask anybody from the GCL, it's a tough league to play in," Mesoraco said. "You get your first experience at pro ball. All of the games are at noon, the hottest time of the day. But you have to just go out and get better every day."

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"I would say he was typical of a cold-weather player in his first year," Reds Minor League director Terry Reynolds said. "He's hard-nosed with a good make-up -- and a good person. All are things you look for in a young catcher. He got beat up pretty good in the GCL. He got rested and refocused."

This spring, Mesoraco is challenging to get a spot with Class A Dayton in the Midwest League.

"Every step he takes, he impresses," Reynolds said. "He needs innings and time. He has the skills."

More respect: A recent ranking of top organizations on MiLB.com placed the Reds as having the fourth-best farm system. Last month, Baseball America placed five Reds prospects in their annual top 100 list, including overall No. 1 prospect Jay Bruce.

The recognition is starting to flow after years of the farm system underperforming under previous regimes.

"We've worked hard at it," Reynolds said. "We think we have good players. But the proof is in the pudding, because the big league team needs to have success. The players have to prove it and continue it at the big league level."

Class of 2007: Neftali Soto, a shortstop taken as a supplemental third-round Draft pick last June, batted .303 with two homers and 28 RBIs in 40 games with the GCL Reds. The 19-year-old was ranked the eighth-best GCL prospect by Baseball America.

What they're saying: "[I like] his quiet demeanor and confidence. The guy has another gear. I don't see him as a quality-start, 6 1/3-inning, three-run guy. That's a formula to get paid but not a formula to win. Every time he gives up a run, he doesn't like it. Every time he gives up a hit, he doesn't like it. That's a formula to win." -- Reds manager Dusty Baker, on pitching prospect and non-roster invitee Johnny Cueto, who is poised to earn a rotation spot with the big league club