Catching can be hot, sweaty and difficult work on both the body and mind. Reds prospect Devin Mesoraco has started showing the big power, but he hasn't forgotten what butters his bread.
Mesoraco is a catcher, through and through.
"No doubt, the priority is catching," Mesoraco said. "There are no ands, ifs or buts about it. You have to be the pitcher's best friend and make them feel comfortable when they're out on the mound."
2010 Spring Training - null
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Not that the Reds and Mesoraco won't take the hitting, too.
Success with the bat eluded Mesoraco in his first three seasons after the Reds made him their first-round Draft pick (15th overall) in 2007. Everything clicked into place last season as he batted a combined .302 with 26 homers, 75 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage between Class A Lynchburg, Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville. He was named the organization's Minor League player of the year.
Earlier this spring during a game, the 22-year-old Mesoraco crushed a long homer to left field that carried well beyond the wall, over the grassy hill and on to an outer sidewalk at Goodyear Ballpark.
"It's not that rare but you're glad when you get it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of having a catcher with power potential. "But their No. 1 job is to catch and throw. If they can hit, then you've got a star."
Four years of extra hitting work appears to have paid off, and could send Mesoraco's career to the next level.
"Any type of drill you can think of, we've probably done," Mesoraco said. "Somebody told me once, you have to do something 3,000 times to get the muscle memory down. I probably had 30,000 the way we've been doing stuff. It's just a matter of putting in the work, and at some point the results are going to show."
This spring, Mesoraco, ranked No. 45 on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list and No. 5 among all catching prospects, is batting .400 (6-for-15) with one home run and three RBIs in 10 games after going 0-for-2 on Friday.
Mesoraco is generally quiet and not prone to making a lot of noise or engaging in jocularity. But when he puts on the shin guards, he's comfortable with taking charge of the game and showing leadership.
"From the first time he caught me, I didn't have a problem with it at all, as far as pitch calling and selection," said pitcher Daryl Thompson, who worked with Mesoraco at Double-A, Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League last season. "I like having him back there. He's really improved a whole lot, not saying he was bad before. He's good. He's caught me twice since I've been down here and he's looking good. You can tell he's improved since last year, even after the Fall League. Everything was good. I can't complain about anything."
This is Mesoraco's third time going through big league camp and he has gotten more comfortable with it each spring. With the Reds having little turnover at the big league level, he's been able to catch much of the pitching staff.
And despite only 14 Triple-A games, he's gotten familiar with several of Louisville's pitchers also.
"Coming in my first year, I was 19 years old and in big league camp. I wasn't going to say anything to anyone," Mesoraco said. "They knew what they were doing more than I knew what they were doing. I sort of went about my business and did what I had to do.
"I'm not really quiet during the season. I'm not a guy that's going to be in someone's face but if that needs to be done, I can do that. Starters have a pretty good idea what's going on, but as guys come in from the bullpen -- whether they've been paying attention to the game or not -- I'm the guy that has to lead them through the game, especially in the crucial innings."
Defensively last season, Mesoraco caught 41 percent of runners attempting to steal. But he also had 13 passed balls.
Bullpen coach Juan Lopez and bullpen catcher Mike Stefanski have been working with Mesoraco to sharpen his skills.
"I've seen improvement from last year to this year," Baker said. "There are some things he needs to work on some. His throwing is whole lot better than it was. The first year I saw him, he had a bad hose."
Mesoraco is expected to begin the season back in Louisville, since the Reds have Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan as their catching tandem in the Majors. The organization also has veteran Corky Miller if a catcher is immediately needed because of an injury.
But before season's end, it's not out of the question that Mesoraco could get his first Major League promotion -- especially if both his hitting and catching continue to make him the complete package.
"It's tough to duplicate the first night somebody is on the mound and you're behind the plate," Mesoraco said. "It's definitely something that will take a day or two after I get up there before I realize I'm the guy to help these guys out."