CINCINNATI -- It took longer than some anticipated, but Reds catching prospect Devin Mesoraco appears to have finally figured how to open the doors to advancement in professional baseball. Only after he uncovered his confidence as a hitter did Mesoraco find himself with a legitimate chance to be in the Major Leagues by sometime in 2011. Originally falling short of meeting high expectations amid whispers that he might be a first-round bust didn't derail the 22-year-old.
"The first couple of years of struggling helped me, not that I want to do it again," said Mesoraco, the 15th overall pick in the 2007 Draft. "I always knew it was a matter of time before things started to click. I wasn't worried. It was a matter of getting experience. I tried not to let it get to me." A .240 hitter with 18 home runs through his first three professional seasons, Mesoraco took his game to another level in 2010 -- actually, through three levels. He batted a combined .302 with 26 homers, 75 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage at Class A Lynchburg, Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville. Defensively, Mesoraco caught 41 percent of runners attempting to steal, an improvement from 30 percent in 2009 and just 17 percent in '08. There is still improvement to be made behind the plate as he also had 13 passed balls. Mesoraco earned an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, usually a proving ground for elite prospects who can smell the big leagues. "He had an outstanding year. He had success at every level," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "You could see it at Spring Training that he had turned a corner and became the prospect we thought he'd be when he was drafted. We'll see where he stands at Spring Training next year. There's not much more we could have asked of him." Mesoraco played only 14 games at Louisville, so it's not unreasonable to believe more time there will be needed. The Reds could have some space at the Major League level with catching, as Ryan Hanigan will return while veteran Ramon Hernandez will be a free agent. The club expressed interest in bringing Hernandez back. But if Mesoraco is ready sooner than later, it could affect how much the club is willing to pay Hernandez. Mesoraco credited his physical maturation into his 220-pound body and being in great shape last spring for setting the stage for a strong season. The rest was an improved hitting state of mind. Among his many career highs were 43 walks, compared to 80 strikeouts. "There really were not a whole lot of mechanical adjustments. I had a better mental approach during at-bats," Mesoraco said from Arizona before a game. "I didn't get overanxious and I let things come to me. "When I got into the box, I was concerned with breaking balls. Now I'm concerned with getting something over the middle of the plate. I look for a pitch I can drive instead of a pitcher's pitch. I try to control the at-bat and not let the pitcher dictate what's going on." Mesoraco is batting batting .231 (6-for-26) with one homer and six RBIs in seven games for the Peoria Saguaros in the AFL. His manager is former big league catcher Ted Simmons, which should help improve his defensive acumen. Once he finishes playing in the AFL, Mesoraco has simple winter plans that include working out and hunting. There's little doubt that the rest of the time in between will be spent considering how close he is to reaching the Major Leagues. "It's the goal I've had, I can't remember how many years," Mesoraco said. "I try not to think about it and focus on what I'm doing. When it happens, I'll be excited."