The Cincinnati Reds offense ranked 3rd in the National League last season in runs scored with 698 runs scored, finishing behind the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies. The team is returning a lot of the offense, though there are two starters that are being replaced with Billy Hamilton taking over for Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Ludwick, technically the starter last season, returning for a full season as he will take over for the injury replacements that played in his place last season.
Replacing Shin-Soo Choo on offense is something that Billy Hamilton simply isn’t likely to do. While Choo hit leadoff for the Reds, he resembled more of a typical #3 hitter because of his overall hitting ability where he hit for average and power while also getting on base at a high rate thanks to plenty of walks and an extraordinary number of times he was hit by a pitch. While Hamilton will be a key to the Reds offense, his contribution is going to be directly tied to how often he can get on base because power simply isn’t going to be a part of his game.
Ryan Ludwick will be taking over for his 2013 replacements, as well as himself when he returned to the lineup after a shoulder injury. Left field saw a line of .250/.313/.374 during the 2013 season. While Ludwick should improve upon that, coming back from a shoulder injury is always a big question mark, so how much of an upgrade Ludwick should provide for the left field position in 2014 is rather uncertain.
A third addition has been made, though perhaps not as drastic. Devin Mesoraco has been named the starting catcher by new manager Bryan Price. Mesoraco did receive 352 plate appearances with the Reds last year, though he has only been the starting catcher when Ryan Hanigan has been injured. Going back to his rookie season he was used a bit uniquely by then manager Dusty Baker. In the first half of that season, Mesoraco started back to back games twice. In the second half of the season things were switched up to where he was given back to back starts on a regular basis, but he would then sit for 3 games (which at times meant four days went by before he would see playing time).
Moving forward to the 2013 season, he was used similarly to that of the second half of 2012 where he would get two starts then sit for three games. That however did end for the time period when Hanigan was injured. However, once Hanigan returned, it was more of the same. Despite being the top catching prospect in the entire game, two full years after being a Major Leaguer, Mesoraco had only been given the chance to start three days in a row because of injury and that time period lasted just over two weeks.
Bryan Price has said that the catching situation will not be relegated to a “this catcher catches this pitcher and that catcher catches that pitcher” situation like the Reds in the past. It seems that Devin Mesoraco is going to be given his first real chance to take the position over. As a former top position prospect in the entire system, Mesoraco showed above-average power (.533 slugging percentage over his final two minor league seasons), an ability to hit for a good average (.295 average over his final two minor league seasons) and good plate discipline.
So far, we have only seen flashes of the power, while he has struggled to find any sort of average. Part of that reason could be that his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) over his career is just .248, which is much lower than the league average. A normalization of his BABIP to league average would boost his OPS by nearly 80 points if he didn’t improve in any other aspect of his game. What would happen though if Mesoraco did improve in the power department and could start showing some of the power he showed in the minor leagues?
In 2013 the Cincinnati Reds catchers combined for 632 plate appearances. Let’s just assume they will wind up with 625 in 2014 for simplicity sake. Let’s then assume that Mesoraco gets 70% of those plate appearances as a catcher and then also gets 25 more as a DH during the season to give him a total of 463 plate appearances. If we give Mesoraco his career rates for walks and strikeouts and give him 25 doubles and 15 home runs, here is what his season could look like if we adjust his BABIP in increments of 10 points from .270 up to league average:
With just some small improvements and a normalization in BABIP to league average, Mesoraco could see his OPS jump up over 100 points and add another legitimate right handed bat to the lineup. But what would happen if Mesoraco were able to replicate the power that he showed in the minor leagues at say a 90% level? Here is the kind of line that could be expected:
As we can see here, with a normalized BABIP and an increase in power for Mesoraco he could turn himself into a serious threat and boost his overall OPS over .150 points at the top end of this scale.
Given that Mesoraco is going to be getting his first true shot at starting every day and the tools that he showed in the minor leagues, he very well could be the key to the offense if he can fulfill some of the potential he showed that made him the top catching prospect in the game. If he can do that, he could add another big bat to the Cincinnati Reds lineup and perhaps be the best of the bunch from the right side of the plate.