Positive Signs for Two Struggling Youngsters

In the modern world, people demand that prospect preform from Day 1. If a prospect struggles out of the gate, major red flags go up throughout the industry. However, it’s important to remember how young these players are when they come up and that struggles should be expected and not surprising. Everybody was ready to write off Alex Gordon and he has turned into a player who has been elite the last 3 seasons. Here are two youngsters  who we should not give up on just yet.

Devin Mesoraco, Reds C (Age: 24)

It’s never sexy talking about a catcher who’s barely starting 50% of his team’s games. It doesn’t help when you see that’s he’s failing to hit above .232, but I think this has been a much better year for the young catcher than most are ignoring. For starters, most young catchers have offensive struggles at first. This is completely fair given the added pressure and expectations they are giving defensively. In addition, a long learning curve is not something especially new for Mesoraco who hit .231 in his first partial season in AAA. Scouting reports also indicate similar trends in the beginning stages of lower levels as well.

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There’s reason for optimism despite Mesoraco’s career .213 average to this point.

Although his stats look almost identical to last year, there are some indicators that Mesoraco is making strides in the right direction. First, he’s walking 12.1% of the time, up from 9.2% of the time last year. Both figures are probably slightly inflated because of at-bats directly in front of the pitcher, but the increase is a good sign for a young hitter. These stats are also confirmed in him being a much more picky hitter, swinging at less pitches out of the strike zone and in the strike zone. Although swinging less in the strike zone is not always good, it is encouraging that his contact rate has had a slight increase and that he is hitting significantly more line drives, up to 24.4% from 16.7% last season. Although I would be a fool to completely compare this situation with Carlos Santana, it is another situation where we have a small sample size suggesting a player is making strides. I tend to buy into these situations especially when it’s a young catcher whose minor league scouting report backs it up.

In 2012, Keith Law ranked Mesoraco 8th overall amongst prospects, suggesting he would have 20 home-run power with a plus average and good patience. It would be unfair to change Mesoraco’s future outlook this early into his major league career. Although Mesoraco has shown rather strong platoon splits, it is important to note that any improvement he’s shown this year has been equally against righties and lefties. Look for Mesoraco to continue to improve and likely stop being as unlucky as his BABIP should be significantly higher. The Reds will likely start playing Mesoraco more in the second half and the increased playing time should have build consistency in the youngster. If the breakout doesn’t happen in the second-half this year, look for Mesoraco to be a great sleeper in drafts next year.

Rick Porcello, Tigers SP (Age:24) 

  • Pitcher A: 2-3, 5.21 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
  • Pitcher B: 2-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

No, I’m not trying to make a point about how useless wins and losses are here. The fact is that both pitchers are Rick Porcello except pitcher B is ignoring his outing against the Angels in which he gave up 9 runs in 2/3rds of an inning. Porcello has made some changes this season that seem to be making a large difference. During spring training, Porcello noted that he was going to rely less on his sinker and more on his curveball and changeup, especially to right-handed hitters. The change-up to righties may seem a bit rare, but some have found success using this most notably Felix Hernandez. Although this didn’t work out in April, Porcello struck out 26% of hitters in May, which would be amongst the top five pitchers in May. Porcello has thrown his curveball 17.1% of the time this year, up from a career average of 5% and 3.2% last year. In addition, his changeup use is up 5% from last year. One must remember that Porcello was once a first round pick top ten prospect with a power fastball and curve. Many in the industry were disappointed that Porcello had settled into a sinkerball pitcher. His new reliance on his curveball and changeup is allowing him to be the dominant pitcher people once thought he could be. In addition, Porcello has moved his position on the mound slightly, which could explain why he is having more success against right-handed arms. These changes have allowed Porcello to show some of the potential scouts saw from him as an amateur and a minor leaguer. In addition to the additional strikeouts Porcello has racked up, Porcello’s control has been much improved as he is walking less than two batters per nine for the first time in his career. This likely has to do with throwing his sometimes-wild slider a lot less. While it is a small sample size and hitters may adjust, this is a 24-year old arm who industry experts saw major potential in. The Tigers may be very lucky that they didn’t trade Rick Porcello during spring training.

Matt Schwimmer is a co-founder of RotoAnalysis. Look for his work all season long on RotoAnalysis.com & CBSPhilly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Schwimingly!

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Photo Credit: http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/files/2013/03/devin-mesoraco-reds.jpg

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