"I saw him in spring training after we had drafted him, and he was raw—both defensively and offensively," Louisville manager Rick Sweet admitted. "You knew the talent was there. You just weren't sure if it would ever click because it was slow in coming.
"But when it came, it all clicked at once."
It certainly has clicked this season for Mesoraco, the International League's starting catcher in the Triple-A all-star game. The 23-year-old batted .310/.389/.517 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs through 261 at-bats for Louisville. His 28 doubles topped the IL.
Those numbers are a far cry from his first three seasons in the organization. Mesoraco batted just .219 in 40 games for the Gulf Coast League Reds in 2007. He hit .261 with low Class A Dayton the following season before struggling to bat just .228 in 92 games for high Class A Sarasota in 2009.
Through his first 846 professional plate appearances, Mesoraco had batted just .240/.311/.368 with little in the way of power (18 homers) or speed (four steals).
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Mesoraco said of his early struggles. "I didn't feel any outside pressure—I wanted to do great and be great for myself. I wanted to get a hit every at-bat and hit a home run every at-bat, and obviously that isn't going to happen.
"I realized that I needed to just do what I could, and at the end of the year the numbers would be there."
The numbers finally arrived last season as he climbed three levels to the cusp of the big leagues. When the dust settled, Mesoraco had batted .302/.377/.587 with 26 home runs in 397 at-bats, mostly for high Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Carolina. Among minor league catchers, only the Blue Jays' J.P. Arencibia hit more homers.
Promoted to Triple-A in mid-August, Mesocraco helped Louisville earn an IL playoff berth.
"I got off to a good start in Lynchburg, and it seemed to carry over at every level I went to," Mesoraco said. "The pitchers have a better idea of what they're doing as you move up, and the game has become a lot more mental for me, especially behind the plate.
"It was fun to catch pitchers who knew what they were trying to do on the mound. I've been just trying to help them as well as I can."
Thinking With His Pitchers
Drafted from Punxsutawney (Pa.) High, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Mesoraco feels he is close to being major league ready.
"Mechanically, I think everything is there for me to be a good catcher—it's a matter of just polishing some things up here and there," Mesoraco said. "Our pitching staff (in Louisville) has been great to work with because it's some older guys who know how to pitch.
"I'm just trying to call a better game, learn when to do some things and get the pitchers comfortable with me. You're trying to think along with them. I'm also learning when to go out and talk to pitchers, and learning when to throw a pitch in the dirt, things like that."
After gunning down 41 percent of base thieves last year, Mesoraco has thrown out 25 percent of basestealers to test him this season. But Sweet said he has noticed the young catcher's improvement in more subtle phases of the game.
"Devin's throwing has always been very good, as has been his blocking (of pitches in the dirt)," said Sweet, a former major league catcher. "One thing he is improving is in his framing of pitches.
"I don't think he's ever caught guys whose stuff is as good as it is at this level. When you get here, you catch pitchers with quality stuff who are around the plate. If you're not in the proper position mentally and physically, you're going to look like you're catching with boxing gloves out there.
"That doesn't happen with Devin very much any more."
Knocking On The Door
Working with the veterans who have pitched for Louisville this season—a list that includes Dontrelle Willis, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey—has helped Mesoraco's development.
"You can't learn a lot of things until you get here and experience them," Sweet said. "Devin is very physically talented, but there were some things for him to learn when he got here. He needed to learn how to call a game, how to set hitters up and how to make adjustments from pitcher to pitcher—from starter to reliever and from hard-thrower to soft-thrower.
"Every once in a while he'll run into a situation where he just doesn't know what the next step is. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. And the good thing about Devin is that he'll listen to ideas and concepts.
"Some guys would have taken it as criticism. But Devin will listen. And while Devin may make a mistake, he listens and learns—and he doesn't make the same mistake very often."
And while Mesoraco's defensive game has improved, his offense has been consistent. He hit .300 or better in each of the season's first three months. Offensive output will be crucial in a Reds organization with an abundance of catchers. Veterans Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez share the job in Cincinnati, while hard-charging 2010 first-round pick Yasmani Grandal already has advanced to Double-A.
"Offensively, I need to get good pitches to hit," Mesoraco said. "If I'm swinging at pitches outside the zone, that's where I'll see trouble and bad at-bats.
"I feel I'm swinging at more strikes than I was at the beginning of the season."
For Mesoraco, it all adds up to a package that has him knocking on the door for a promotion to Cincinnati, while laying to rest doubts that any scout or coach may have had about his abilities.
"We wondered for a few years if it was every going to work," Sweet said. "Well, the wait has been worth it. He's one of the best catchers I've ever had."