The Reds have taken a flier on Matt Harvey, hoping he can do something to bolster a pitching staff with the worst ERA in the National League. In return, the Mets have taken a flier on Devin Mesoraco, hoping he can do something to improve the Mets’ catching situation. The Mets have gotten the least offensive production from the catching position of any team in the National League after injuries to their two primary catchers, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, forced them to begin using Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton as the catching tandem for the major league team.
Like Harvey, Mesoraco was a top prospect. In 2011, Mesoraco reduced his ground ball rate significantly in the minor leagues as a result of adopting a more uppercut swing, putting him on the fast track to the majors. In other words, he was doing the launch angle thing before it was cool. In 2011, he was ranked as the 20th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
Mesoraco was promoted to the major leagues as a September call-up in 2011 and had a quick cup of coffee with the Reds. He played his first full big league season in 2012 as the backup to Ryan Hanigan on the division-champion Reds. He then became the starting catcher the next season in 2013. He got off to a slow start in the major leagues, though, putting up just a 68 wRC+ and a 73 wRC+ in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
However, he broke out in a big way in 2014, having his version of Matt Harvey’s 2013—All-Star, young phenom, and centerpiece of the future. He posted a 147 wRC+ that year with 25 home runs, 54 runs scored, and 80 RBIs. This prompted the Reds to sign Mesoraco to a Juan Lagares style team friendly deal. However, much like the Juan Lagares contract has gone for the Mets, Mesoraco hasn’t lived up to the to the hype.
Like Travis d’Arnaud, the catcher whose shoes he is trying to fill, Mesoraco has flashed incredible offensive skills, including the ability to hit for power. But injuries seem to have cut him down in his prime, turning him into a shell of the player he once was. Since his All-Star season in which he played in 114 games, he has played in just 113 games combined. The laundry list of injuries is long. Hip surgery. Shoulder surgery. Hip surgery again. Fractured foot. Tucker Barnhart soon overtook Mesoraco on the depth chart, as the Reds grew weary of his inability to stay on the field.
When he has been on the field, he hasn’t been the same hitter either. Since the start of the 2015 season, he holds just a 62 wRC+ in the 113 games he has played. But of course it is hard to say if he was playing healthy in any of those games.
For his part, Mesoraco says he feels “great” and that he has “no issues.” He thinks getting regular at-bats will help him be productive again. “I need at-bats,” Mesoraco said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I’ve had 200 at-bats in three years, I just haven’t played a lot, so for me I need to play, I need at-bats, needed to tinker with something and figure it out. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity and get back to being a productive major leaguer.”
On the Mets, at least for the time being while Kevin Plawecki is still sidelined, he’s going to get them. So far this year, Mesoraco carries a 57 wRC+, which—believe it or not—represents an improvement over what the Mets have produced from the catching position so far this season. Defensively, Mesoraco is somewhat of a mixed bag. He has always been touted for his great arm, which may be somewhat diminished from his days as a prospect due to shoulder problems. Nevertheless, he has a quite respectable 32.6% caught stealing rate for his career. His weakness, though, is as a receiver. He grades out as a below average pitch framer by RAA, with a -8.1 in his All-Star season, the largest sample we have to work with.
After the news broke that Matt Harvey’s career with the Mets would be coming to a close, Gary Cohen described Harvey as “the brightest comet to flash across the Citi Field sky.” One could argue Mesoraco was a comet that flashed across the sky at Great American Ballpark. Both teams are holding out hope that those comets will streak across the sky once more.