Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Ashley Davis to the Redleg Nation family. This is actually not Ashley’s first piece for RN; she wrote this piece six years ago (!) about Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso. I’m really excited that she’s joining us at RN for the 2017 season. Please make her feel welcome! — Chad Dotson

On Monday, Reds manager Bryan Price told the Cincinnati media the Reds will carry no more than two catchers when they break camp at the end of March. Ideally, he would like it to be Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Yes, there are still questions about the health of Mesoraco, but for the first time since 2013, when Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan split time behind the plate, it seems the Reds’ catching situation is stable. A big reason for that is Barnhart has established himself as at least a solid MLB back-up catcher. But did he do enough in 2016 to prove he deserves a platoon situation?

In 115 games last season, Barnhart hit .257/.323/.379, with an OPS of .702. He had 97 hits and drove in 51 runs. His numbers weren’t eye-popping, but the stats show he had a solid season for a player who was thrust into the role of everyday catcher in just his third season in the big leagues. Barnhart’s walk and strikeout percentages weren’t horrible, at 8.6% and 17.1%, respectively. He tends to hit more line drives than pop-ups or fly balls, as evidenced by his .299 BABIP and only seven home runs in 377 at-bats.

Barnhart can also make plays behind the plate with his arm. In 2016, he threw out 34 of 102 runners, for a 33% caught stealing percentage. This was six percentage points higher than the league average of 27%. Despite his lack of power, Barnhart has certain strengths and defense looks to be one.

At the risk of jinxing Mesoraco, he seems healthy going into 2017. He played in his first Cactus League game of the spring on Sunday and felt good. Reds fans haven’t seen him play regularly since 2014 when he was an All-Star. In fact, the last two years, Mesoraco has played in just 39 games. But, in 2014, it was a breakout year, and it showed the Reds what he is capable of when he is healthy.

In 2014, Mesoraco hit .273/.359/.534, with an OPS of .893. He showed his power by hitting 25 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 384 at-bats. He did hit a lot of groundballs (34%), but the percentage at which he hit fly balls was much higher at 43% to put his BABIP at .309. Mesoraco’s strikeout to walk ratio of 103-to-41 wasn’t the greatest in 2014, but you can’t have it all (unless you’re Joey Votto). Defensively, he threw out only 18 of 51 runners, but committed just three errors in 890 chances.

I would compare the tandem of Mesoraco and Barnhart to the combination of Ryan Hanigan and Mesoraco in 2012 and 2013. In both cases, there was a veteran catcher and a less experienced, but still capable catcher in the back-up role. However, this time around I believe the current tandem is the better one. Hanigan had a decent season in 2012, which is probably one of the reasons the Reds were so good that year, but in 2013, his production went way down. His OPS went from .703 to .567, and nearly every statistical category had a huge drop. It’s probably too early in his career to tell if Barnhart will be the same way, but early returns are good.

If both catchers can stay healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them split time behind the plate, at least early in the season as the Reds ease Mesoraco back into the game. Barnhart has the stronger arm, but the offense that a healthy Mesoraco brings makes up for that. Barnhart proved he can perform at an MLB level last season, but didn’t quite prove he has an edge over Mesoraco, given Mesoraco’s 2014 performance.

39 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    Welcome Ashley! If Price has already said the Reds will only have two catchers in Cincinnati I’ll take that as very good news regarding Mesoraco’s health. If he can eventually catch three games out of five by the end of the year that would be a big boost for the Reds offense, but I for one am fine giving 40-50% of starts to Barnhart. This year. My short term concerns are Devin’s durability and Price’s management and use of the two catchers to keep them both healthy if not fresh. In the long term I hope the front office recognizes the need to develop (or acquire) the catcher(s) of the future. It’s hard to picture Mesoraco being a fixture behind the plate for more than a couple of years. Okey perhaps? For now all eyes are on Devin Mesoraco.

    • Ashley Davis

      Thanks for the welcome! Yes, I agree that Mesoraco’s durability is a question. I think Price will platoon Mesoraco and Barnhart more so at the beginning of the year because they do want to ease Meditation back into it. Long term, Okey could be an option, but I think the Reds are thinking Tyler Stephenson could be an everyday catcher. He was on the DL with Dayton last year, so we probably won’t see him for at least a couple of years.

  2. Redbuffs

    Great article Ashley! Thank you for keeping us up to date.

  3. Simon Cowell

    So Why not Turner of Barnhardt? Just playing devil’s advocate here. Seems like Turner’s defense could be substantial. But then again is a catcher’s defensive skill over rated?

    • The Duke

      Because Barnhart is good, proven, and cheap. Turner has had a solid spring, but trusting that over Barnhart’s actual MLB production would be foolish.

  4. Darrin

    The reds eventually ended up with Disco by way of Alonso, and made a disaster out of the left field situation for a few years……anyway, I feel we should lobby for the DH in the NL, it would be perfect for Mes, seriously tho, I’d be happy if he can start 50% of the time and be productive. I really have my doubts he will and feel there will be another catcher on the roster by June. Crossing my fingers I’m wrong.

  5. Simon Cowell

    I think the smart move is to start Mesoraco in slowly with a rehab assignment at Louisviille. Go with Turner and Barnhardt. After Mes finishes rehab assignment we find an excuse to put one of the other 2 on the DL. We keep 3 all year by always rotating one to the DL. Don’t tell me it can be done. The DL rules are shady to begin with. Might as well exploit it.

  6. Eric The Red

    I agree 100%. 2017 is about getting ready for 2018 and beyond. Keeping Turner is worth the hassle of juggling the 25 man roster to keep him, even if it costs us a game or two this year. And that’s without factoring in Mesoraco’s potential fragility and the likelihood of a catcher getting hurt at some point in a given season.

    • brunsfam

      Also agree. Ease Mes back into every-day playing. Why push this? From the reports that he looks stiff at the plate, there can’t be a reason to hurry him back. He will not return to his 2014 form for at least 2-3 weeks – if ever.

      Seems that a 3rd MLB ready catcher is a smart option and the reason Turner was picked up to begin with!

  7. Brad

    Not to nitpick, but throwing out “only 18 out of 51” runners is 35%, which is higher than the percentage you cite for Barnhart, so that shouldn’t be a knock on Mesoraco’s defense when making the comparison.

    • Ashley Davis

      Oops, I see that now. Going to have to make sure to check my stats next time. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • VaRedsFan

      I respectfully disagree. To my eyes, Mes is below avg defensively. Not very good a pitch framing, and blocking balls in the dirt. And overall he seems to fumble a lot. Regular balls seem to pop out of his glove on many occasions.

  8. Redgoggles

    With Mesoraco’s catching limitations but apparent ability to hit, it seems like this would be the year to start out the year carrying 3 catchers to allow the use of Devin as a PH during games he doesn’t catch. That combined with the lack of high minor league depth at C, has me wondering why they made this decision public so soon.

    • Ashley Davis

      This is a good point. The Reds have been very careful to ease Mesoraco back into catching. It probably would make more sense to carry 3 catchers, at least at the beginning of the year.

  9. Gregory Hildebrand

    I feel its time for Devin to step up and get healthy I know you can’t control injuries but one must question his off field commitment to address his injury situation putting Tucker in limbo every year is not fair to Tucker or the Reds is it time to produce or cut bait with Devin?

    • Simon Cowell

      true you can’t control injuries but you can control adding players to the 25 man roster that are injury prone. Between his knees, shoulders, hips and concussions one has to wonder what his true value is if his medical expenses, missed availability, playing through injuries are tacked on to his salary. I suspect that that Tucker is the better catcher for the value but I will admit that I do not have any data to substantiate that other than Tucker has suited up for more games than Devin.

      • Ashley Davis

        I wouldn’t release Mesoraco because 1) the Reds are paying him through next year and 2) because of the season he had in 2014. He’s not even 30 yet (will be 29 in June). The potential is there if he can stay healthy. And if the Reds end up being competitive in 2018 (which I think they will), I can see him being a part of that.

  10. Ashley Davis

    Hi! Happy to be here! I’ve been an active reader, but not an active commenter, up until now. Definitely going to get more involved with commenting from here on out

  11. Nick Kirby

    Nice article Ashley, welcome to RN! There is so much to like about Tucker Barnhart. If Mesoraco can stay healthy and be even a shell of himself in 2014, the Reds are well off from the catcher position with Barnhart catching maybe 25% of the games. Barnhart’s .702 OPS was actually exactly the MLB average for catchers in 2016. I’ll take that plus good defense out of a backup any year!

  12. sandman

    I don’t like Barnhart’s lack of offense.

    • Simon Cowell

      I don’t like Devin’s availability to actually play

      • sandman

        Simon, WHEN Mes is healthy you’ll be right there cheering with the rest of us when he starts mashing Home runs. Don’t play like you hate him. You can say anything you want in denial of this fact but I’ll know the truth.

    • sandman

      Tom, Ok, I don’t like Tucker’s barely average offense.

      • The Duke

        If it were easy to find great hitting catchers, then every team would have a Buster Posey. Catcher is one of the hardest positions to find in baseball, and the bust rate is higher than most any other position drafted.

  13. Jim Walker

    Seems to me Barnhart is one of the most important players on the Reds right now. He is the only catcher on the 40 man roster with substantial MLB experience who is also healthy enough and game ready to pull a full workload behind the plate.

    Check out this article which went up on the Enquirer site Monday evening. The Reds seems to be laying the foundation to announce that Mesoraco will start the season on DL to allow him to work on becoming game ready in the minors. Thankfully, at least it seems like his health is not at issue. He simply needs more time to clear the rust and get up to speed from essentially two consecutive seasons on the sidelines.

    http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/mlb/reds/2017/03/20/devin-mesoraco-progressing-but-could-miss-opening-day/99429698/

    • Simon Cowell

      Smart move. Glad they listened to me. By the time Devin is ready to play the Reds can fake a injury to one of the other 2 catchers and move them down to the DL.

  14. sandman

    It seems to me that people will go to great lengths to justify keeping players with average or little offense (Tucker/Hamilton) just bcuz they may be good or even great defensively. I understand that good or great defense is nice and helpful. But I don’t believe we should accept or settle for average offense.

    • Chad Dotson

      Average offense plus good/great defense is an above-average player.

      I’ll take above-average players on my team. Especially at catcher/center field.

    • Chuck Schick

      Fielding a team in which everyone is above average offensively and defensively would require the greatest farm system ever or a payroll of 1 billion. Both are unlikely for the Reds.

      You seem to have a hard time understanding that few players are above average offensively. That scarcity makes them difficult to find and/or acquire. I suppose Geronimo and Concepcion were worthless.

      • sandman

        Chuck, the Reds whole deal has been to find hopefully elite, young talent for cheap. That’s what scouts are for. You’re telling me that the best our scouts could come up with is a bunch of kids who’re average offensively? Maybe need better scouts. I know they’ve recently beefed up this department so maybe it’s only a matter of time. Hopefully the new scouts are better at identifying talent. IF, average offensive plyrs are all the lower or beginning levels are producing, then maybe we need better coaches at those levels or something. I don’t know. Anything so teams don’t have to settle for average offense. Anyway, my first point is my best point I believe, and that being that the Reds have been trying to find young cheap talent. I believe they can do better. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. But you like to throw history up in my face, don’t you? It’s like you’re trying to bait me into saying these beloved Reds historical figures weren’t all that great. Ok, I’ll bite, maybe they weren’t. I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when some of them guys played and too young to remember or care about the others. All I can do is focus on the here and now.

      • Eddie

        Most players are just not special. There will be lots of Jay Bruce level players in the majors over the next 10 years. He was special to us because he was on the Reds. But there are very few unique snowflakes. The Reds just need to keep working and eventual there will be teams with more good than bad. Keep the faith.

      • sandman

        Greenmtred, I don’t doubt that this group of players will win (eventually) and I’ll be right there cheering the Reds on (not any individual player). I’ll be happy we are winning (whenever that happens) but, again, I stress that I don’t have to care about the players we do it with.

  15. Jim Walker

    Fielding a team in which everyone is above average offensively and defensively ….

    I’d guess the Reds would have to relocate to Lake Woebegone to be able to pull this off. 😉

  16. sandman

    Greenmtred, thanks for understanding. I don’t understand anymore why fans get attached and fall in love with certain players when they know that they’ll eventually be traded. I was just trying to save people some heartache. But, most people can handle such disappointment, so…you know…whatever! There are even some who can still fall in love with a player(s) and still not get crushed when that player(s) get traded. I REALLY don’t understand those types of people. But, to each his own, I guess.