Hard work brings Mesoraco a long way

After down moments in the minors, 25-year-old Reds catcher is off to a stunningly successful start in his first year as a regular.

Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (39) rounds third base after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park.

Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI -- There is either a filed-away report or there was a telephone conversation involving a manager or a coach of the Dayton Dragons talking to Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty in 2008.

It concerned catcher Devin Mesoraco, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2007 when Wayne Krivsky was general manager. The message: "We made a mistake. This kid can't play. He won't ever make it."

Mesoraco smiled when he heard that and said, "Hey, if people saw me at that time, I wasn't very good. I kinda stunk."

And there was an incident in Dayton when pitching coach Doug Bair walked to the bullpen and saw Mesoraco leaning against a wall, tears in his eyes, and he said to Bair, "I should go home. I can't play up here."

Mesoraco doesn't remember that incident, but doesn't doubt that it happened. "There were numerous incidents like that my first couple of years. I knew I wasn't playing the way that I could. I've always been a guy to put a lot of pressure on myself to go out there and perform and produce."

When Bair caught Mesoraco in his way, way down moment in the Dayton bullpen, he put his arm around Mesoraco's shoulders and said, "Hey, where were you at this time last year? You were in high school, right? You were 18 years old. Now you're only 19 and playing against older guys."

It is seven years later and Mesoraco, now 25, is the Reds No. 1 catcher and off to a stunningly successful start in his first year as a regular -- .471 average, three home runs, three doubles and seven RBI in only 21 at-bats.

"It took me a while because I had to get out of my own way," said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound native of Punxsutawney, Pa., home of The Ground Hog. "I had to let my ability shine through. It was a long process and it was part of learning how to play the game. There is always going to be failure and I never had that in the past."

Mesocraco said he is a product of raw talent, injected with a pile of hard work and hours and hours of listening to those who have been there and done that.

"There are so many variables in what actually makes a player," he said. "There is the talent, the make-up, how hard somebody wants to work. It is not all about talent. There are very few guys who can come up the majors and just get away with talent.

"I've always been a guy willing to work and listen to instruction I'm giving and introduce that into my game," he added. "I try to get better as much as I possibly can."

Mesoraco has come so far that there are those who envision him moving up in the batting order from seventh and eighth to fourth or fifth.

"I try to have good at-bats no matter where I am in the order," he said. "Hitting eighth is a little bit different because you are hitting ahead of the pitcher and don't see too many good pitches. You draw a lot of walks, intentional and those so-called unintentional-intentional walks.

"It all depends on how you are swinging the bat and you want to have your most productive guys in the middle of the order and have guys on base so they can drive them in," he said. "If I keep swinging the ball well, that would be a sensible move to make. But we have a lot of good hitters and at any one time a lot of them can be hot."

Manager Bryan Price loves Mesoraco's approach at the plate. "For a guy with power, he fights during his at-bats to put the ball in play. He is a tough guy with two strikes," said Price. "He'll punch out now and then but he does a tremendous job of fighting his way through an at-bat."

Of moving up in the order, Price said, "Certainly. We look for good, consistent productive at-bats from all of our guys. The path is clear for all our guys to create their own destiny. Mesoraco will be given the opportunity to do that and it is the logical next step for him."

Right now, Price wants Mesoraco priority to be defense -- running the game, handling the pitchers, controlling the running game. Offense? A bonus.

"We want him to catch the bulk of the games and take advantage of that by doing the things on defense he needs to do. From there. he has the opportunity to write his own ticket.

Price detects a huge step forward from last year to this year.

"He really is more comfortable and mature this year," said Price. "He has a lot of pull-power, but he has power to right center as well. When he is able to stay on the ball out over the plate and not try to hook it to left field he has a much better approach."

There were 10 home runs hit Monday night in six innings before rain halted the game, forcing it to carry over to be completed before Tuesday's regularly scheduled game.

The score was 7-7 when it was called and the last run came on the 10th home run of the game, hit by Mesoraco with two outs in the sixth inning. That tied it up.

"Of the 10 home runs, of the four we hit, if Mesoraco doesn't hit his home run and the game is called, we lose, 7-6. We play one game Tuesday at 7:10 instead of picking up Monday's game in the seventh inning with a chance to win two games in one day," said Price.

Dayton is only 45 miles away from Cincinnati, but it took Mesoraco a long time with a lot of hard work to cover the distance. And now he is proving that scouting reports and phone calls can be debunked.