After getting feet wet, Mesoraco eyes big things
Cincinnati has high expectations for young backstop in 2012
CINCINNATI -- No Reds prospect's callup was more anticipated in 2011 than when catcher Devin Mesoraco was summoned to the big leagues for the first time.Given a good, long look behind the plate in September, Mesoraco demonstrated he wasn't yet a finished product. But the 23-year-old certainly did not disappoint, either. "He's a tremendous talent," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He pays attention. He's going to be a good hitter. He's really worked on his footwork and his throwing. Naturally, as a young catcher, he still has some things to learn, [like] game situations." Mesoraco, who was named Triple-A Louisville's Most Valuable Player this season, found his first Major League stint to be an invaluable experience. "It's been a lot of fun for me, just to get my feet wet up here and get a taste of what it's like and how to study hitters," Mesoraco said. "It should be very valuable for next season, the next couple of seasons." Mesoraco played 18 games, making 13 starts -- including nine of Cincinnati's final 11 games. He was more hopeful about catching a shutout than hitting his first home run, and he managed to do both. Mesoraco's first hit came in his first at-bat -- a pinch-hit double on Sept. 3 at St. Louis -- then the long ball came on Sept. 12 vs. Chicago at Great American Ball Park. A six-hit shutout was completed when starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo blanked the Astros on Sept. 21. "I feel comfortable. Behind the plate, I feel great," Mesoraco said. "As soon as I got up here, I felt confident with my catching ability and just being behind the plate working with the pitchers. I think guys are starting to get comfortable with me back there, and maybe even enjoy having me back there. That's the main thing for me." Baker really liked that Mesoraco took the most pride in his game calling, and pointed out ways it could improve some more. "I told him one part, especially as a young catcher, that he'll be second-guessed on a lot of his pitching selection at certain times of the game," Baker said. "I just reminded him that late in the game -- there has been three or four times he's come in late in the game and had late-inning homers or hits. There are things you try to stay away from and things you try to impart on him." Mesoraco struggled offensively, hitting just .180, but he showed some pop with two home runs and three doubles. He had a tough time as a hitter when he first joined the organization as a first-round Draft pick in 2007. By 2010, Mesoraco turned the corner by batting .302 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs at three Minor League levels. That was backed up this season at Louisville, when he posted a .289 average with 15 homers and 71 RBIs. "Hitting-wise, there are some adjustments to be made," Mesoraco said. "That will happen next year. It's about seeing the pitchers, knowing the pitchers and trying not to do too much. I have to have a better approach with at-bats, as opposed to what I've been doing." Mesoraco appears to be a good bet to pair in a catching tandem next season, splitting time with veteran Ryan Hanigan. As of Monday, the Reds still haven't made a formal decision about Ramon Hernandez, but it would be surprising if the 35-year-old free agent is re-signed. "I'm always prepared to come in and catch 100 games -- no matter where it's at," Mesoraco said. "That's my goal for the next however many years I play. I'm going to come in good shape and control what I can control, which is being ready to play." "He's going to get into a bigger role eventually," Baker said. "I tried to match him with guys he's caught already to give him the best chance, the pitchers the best chance and us the best chance. That is a tough position. What Buster Posey did last year [for the Giants] was almost unheard of. That's like being a rookie quarterback going to the Super Bowl, almost." All promising Reds catchers are often -- sometimes unfortunately -- compared with the legendary Johnny Bench, who is routinely recognized as the greatest catcher in the game's history. While no one in the organization would dare do that, there has rarely been catching stability behind the plate in Cincinnati since Bench retired in 1983. There have been some quality catchers to come and go, but precious few have been homegrown. Mesoraco has shown the makings of a catcher that can develop into a Reds fixture. "He's a good kid, that's where it starts," Baker said. "You could tell he came from a good upbringing. He's very respectful. He listens. You know he's quiet, but he's paying attention. As a manager or a coach, you're not really crazy about that know-it-all guy. That's not him."