Remember 2007? It was a different time. The kids were listening to strange music, people dressed weird, Apple released a new version of the iPod that looked like this, and the Bengals had a losing record. It was a simpler time.
Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating. I suppose 2007 wasn’t that long ago. After all, the Reds went 72-90 and finished fifth in the NL Central division that year. This year’s team has won 72 (with six games left), and they are firmly ensconced in fourth place, in shouting distance of fifth. Some things never change.
Actually, a lot has changed since then, and if I’d quit joking around, we could get to the point, right? Right. Since 2007, the Reds have enjoyed a good bit of success on the baseball diamond. In some quarters, there is great hope that the Reds will get back to their winning ways next season. If they are able to do so, a series of decisions that were made on June 7, 2007 will figure mightily in that success.
I’m talking about the 2007 draft. In the midst of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season, the Reds—led by GM Wayne Krivsky and current Scouting Directors Chris Buckley and Terry Reynolds—participated in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The fruits of that draft have been among the only bright spots of the 2014 season for the Redlegs. I’m talking, of course, about 26th-round selection Curtis Partch (career 1-1, 4.75 ERA) and 3rd-rounder Neftali Soto (.071/.091/.095).
If you can believe it, the Reds actually had more success a little higher in the draft. In the first two rounds, Cincinnati had four picks; in addition to the regular first- and second-round selections, Cincinnati had two picks in the supplemental first round, as compensation for losing free agents Rich Aurilia and Scott Schoeneweis. If you remember Schoeneweis’ 14.1-inning tenure with the Reds, you are doing better than me. I must have blocked it from my mind.
Anyway, here’s how those picks played out:
Round 1 (overall pick #15): Devin Mesoraco, catcher
Round 1, supplemental (overall pick #34): Todd Frazier, shortstop
Round 1, supplemental (overall pick #53): Kyle Lotzkar, RHP
Round 2 (overall pick #79): Zack Cozart, shortstop
Lotzkar was a nice-looking prospect who had Tommy John surgery in 2009, was never able to maintain command, and—despite playing in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game—was ultimately released by the Reds last September. He’s plying his trade for the Texas Rangers organization these days.
Cozart, you know about. I’ve already written in the electronic pages of Cincinnati Magazine that I think you are underrating Cozart, thanks to his spectacular defense, so I won’t repeat myself. The guy can’t hit, but he can flash a little leather at shortstop, and in this day and age of decreased offense, that provides some value.
The players I want to discuss, however, are Mesoraco and Frazier. Those guys, both selected among the first 34 players taken in 2007, have become huge contributors to the Reds. If we’re being honest, they are the only two players who have been positive offensive contributors during this horrific 2014 season. As such, they are key to the Reds’ hopes of contending next season.*
*Cincinnati’s hopes, as far as I can tell, are that Mesoraco and Frazier will continue to play well in 2015, Jay Bruce will return to form, and Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips will be healthy. It’s not unimaginable that this series of events could come to pass, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if GM Walt Jocketty would start working the phones to find a power-hitting left fielder.
As noted above, Mesoraco and Frazier were taken in the first 34 picks. Of those 34 draft selections, Cincinnati’s two players are among only six who have been selected for an All-Star Game to this point in their careers (the others: David Price, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, and Jason Heyward*). Mesoraco was the second catcher taken (after Wieters). You may remember that Mesoraco had committed to play baseball at the University of Virginia—a recent college baseball powerhouse and my alma mater—when he was selected, and he chose the Reds over UVa. Wise choice.
*All four of those players were chosen before the Reds even had a chance to pick, at #15. This tells me that the Reds could not have made two better choices than they did that year.
You may also remember that Frazier was a Little League World Series hero long before he became a legitimate Major League prospect. He was a shortstop when drafted, though the Reds wisely converted him to third base. In the 2007 draft, there were seven SS/3B selected before Frazier was taken by the Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals were looking for a shortstop, and they could have chosen Frazier with the 18th selection in the first round. Instead, they went for Pete Kozma, who is awful. This makes me irrationally happy.
We know that Frazier and Mesoraco have both had breakout seasons this year. Frazier has hit .276/.336/.455, with 27 homers (tops on the Reds) and 76 RBI. He leads all National League third basemen in home runs and stolen bases (20), ranks second in RBI, and third in WAR (4.3), wOBA (.348), and wRC+ (120). He’s been a productive player who plays some pretty good defense at the hot corner, as well. I have no doubt that he can be a huge contributor to next year’s Redlegs.
Meanwhile, Mesoraco has been limited to 110 games and 425 plate appearances, but he has hit .278/.362/.539 with 24 home runs and 77 RBI. He leads all NL catchers in homers, wOBA (.390), wRC+ (149), ranks second in RBI, and fourth in WAR (4.5). A breakout season, indeed.
Both Frazier and Mesoraco have also had seasons that were extremely significant, in terms of franchise history. Frazier’s 27 home runs is the most a Reds third baseman has hit in 44 years; it’s the fourth-highest total ever for a Cincinnati Reds 3B, behind Tony Perez (40, in 1970; 37, in 1969) and Deron Johnson (32, in 1965).* According to Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR calculation, Frazier has posted more single-season wins above replacement than any Reds third baseman other than Tony Perez, (1970, 1969, 1968), Heinie Groh (1917, 1915, 1919, 1916), Pete Rose (1976), Chris Sabo (1988, 1991), and Hans Lobert (1908).
*Of course, fifth on that list is prolific American League home run hitter Edwin Encarnacion (26 HR, in 2008), who the Reds couldn’t wait to discard at the first available moment. Yes, I’m bitter. He was my favorite Reds player after Adam Dunn was traded.
As for Mesoraco, his 24 homers ranks 10th in Reds history (among players who played at least 50% of their games at catcher for the Redlegs). You likely won’t be surprised that Johnny Bench holds eight spots in that particular top ten; Ed Bailey’s 28 HR in 1956 is the only other entrant on the list. Mesoraco’s 77 RBI (so far) is in the top 15 all-time in franchise history, and his OPS+ (151) is the fourth-highest total ever among Reds catchers who played at least 100 games. Only Johnny Bench (166, in 1972), Ernie Lombardi (152, in 1938), and Bubble Hargrave (152, in 1926) rank higher.
We don’t know what 2015 will hold for the Reds, but if we’re trying to find a silver lining in the season that is almost finished, Frazier and Mesoraco would probably have to top the list. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how these guys follow up on their outstanding performances of this season.
Now we* just have to figure out how to keep Joey Votto healthy. And get Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips to return to their All-Star form. And keep Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman happy and healthy. And find a competent left fielder. And figure out how to put together a decent bench and bullpen.
*By “we,” I mean the Reds. Good luck, Walt Jocketty!