The verb in the headline is a person. But once a person has broken out like Devin Mesoraco has this year, the first instinct is to look for lightning to strike again in the same fashion. Given the season Grandal just had — 15th-best in the end-of-season rankings — maybe he’s even further along than Devin Mesoraco once was. Maybe it’s still fair to wonder if he can Devin Mesoraco.
What made Mesoraco Mesoraco? A year ago, during just this same exercise, I wrote about the Reds’ catcher and pointed out my reasons for liking him as a breakout player.
1) He had pedigree as a former top prospect.
2) He had spent a couple of years honing his receiving and was finally starting.
3) His plate discipline stats were good.
4) His batted ball luck was not good to date.
5) His minor league stats suggested more power was coming.
It’s a fairly good roadmap to find any sleeper, but it’s stronger with catchers. Players at that position debut later, ostensibly because it’s tough to learn the intricacies of the position. At least, that was Devin Mesoraco‘s theory for why it took him a bit longer to break out.
So does Grandal meet the requirements?
1) Yes. Grandal peaked as the #53 prospect with Baseball America in 2011. He was the Reds’ fourth-best prospect that year, and their top defensive catcher in the minors. Drafted in the first round, he was always on the good side of bust rates.
2) Grandal may have needed the defensive tutelage less than Mesoraco, given his reputation behind the plate. His defensive metrics are skewed by less than stellar work at first base due to some injury and poor play from the Padres’ incumbent first baseman. He’s mostly been a scratch defender so far, and you might get nervous about him playing at first base in a keeper league, but the fact that he’s a top-ten framer and that the 31-year-old Rene Rivera is sure to regress says to me that he’s a catcher long term. And pretty decent at catching.
3) Mesoraco had a 7.7% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate in 589 plate appearances before this season. Grandal has a 13.8% walk rate and a 22.2% strikeout rate in 777 plate apearances so far. A second bullet point that favors Grandal over Mesoraco.
4) Mesoraco had a .248 career batting average on balls in play going into this season. Grandal has a .291 career BABIP but numbers of .257 and .277 in the last two seasons. In terms of popular appeal, recency bias may put Grandal in a similar bucket to Mesoraco going into last season.
5) This one was more obvious for Mesoraco. His career isolated slugging percentage in the winter of 2013 was .134 while his minor league ISO was .185. Grandal’s career ISO is .167 and his minor league ISO was .177. But there’s still the suggestion of possible power coming for Grandal, especially given his age. At 25 he’s either at or right before his power peak. (Yes his stadium is not as favorable as the one the Reds play in, but at least Grandal is a switch-hitter and can sometimes get the benefit of a homer park that plays almost neutrally for right-handers.)
The easy answer is, yes, of course Yasmani Grandal could Devin Mesoraco. As a post-hype guy with decent plate discipline, power upside, and a full-time role backed by improving defense, he checks all the boxes.
The only problem with this equation is that Grandal has already done better than pre-2014 Mesoraco ever did. So he’ll cost you a few bucks more, and you’ll have to assume more risk than you did with The Devin Mesoraco Plan, part one.
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