Today we’re going to kick off a fun little series where we look back at each decade and talk about the best season of the decade for both hitters and pitchers (we’ll alternate these each decade before moving back to the previous decade). There were some good seasons put together from 2010-2019 by Cincinnati Reds hitters in the farm system – with three of the top five seasons by OPS for a qualified hitter actually coming in the 2019 year. But none of those seasons get the nod from me in the season of the decade. Instead that nod goes to the sixth best season in the OPS category, and that season belongs to Devin Mesoraco in his 2010 campaign.
When he entered that season it was on the back of three straight seasons where he didn’t exactly make anyone think that he was on the verge of breaking out. In 2009 with the Sarasota Reds, Devin Mesoraco hit .228/.311/.381 – good for a .692 OPS, which was basically league average that year (.684 for the league). The former first round pick would flash the tools that made him the 15th overall selection in 2007, but injuries and so-so hitting didn’t exactly leave him with the “top prospect” moniker. Entering the 2010 season he was rated as the 14th best prospect in the organization on my list, and he was the 30th rated prospect on Baseball America’s list.
When the year began in 2010 for Devin Mesoraco he was repeating the Advanced-A level. The Reds had just moved their spring training facilities to Arizona that year, which meant that they also left behind their affiliate in the Florida State League, the Sarasota Reds. Mesoraco joined the Lynchburg Hillcats that season and got out to a strong start, going 2-2 with a walk, run scored, and an RBI on Opening Night and he didn’t look back. When April was over he was hitting .297/.378/.594. The next month was even better for the catcher, who across 27 games in May saw a .353/.426/.667 line with 16 extra-base hits. It also earned him a promotion to Double-A near the end of the month, where he would homer twice in his first three games with the Carolina Mudcats.
Let’s roll some of that
beautiful bean footage, err, home run highlight and excuse myself for the absolutely terrible camera work.
The jump to Double-A didn’t seem to be much of a concern for Devin Mesoraco. The 22-year-old backstop beat up the pitchers in the Southern League over the next two-and-a-half months, hitting .294/.363/.594 with 11 doubles, three triples, and 13 home runs across 56 games. In mid-August he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville for the final two weeks of the season. His offensive output slowed down a bit in his 14 games with the Bats where he hit just .231/.310/.462.
It was a huge, breakout season for the future All-Star catcher. And it was one that showed on the field all of the raw talent that he had shown as an amateur in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania just a few years prior. Between his three stops that season he hit .302/.377/.587 with 25 doubles, five triples, and 26 home runs in 451 plate appearances. And he did all of that as a catcher.
Stacking up with the contenders
As noted near the beginning of the article, Devin Mesoraco’s 2010 season was only the 6th best season by OPS for qualified hitters in the 2010-2019 stretch of the farm system. Let’s take a look at those seasons.
When looking at OPS+, Devin Mesoraco only moves up to 5th on the list. But he’s only one of two players to get 400 plate appearances, too. Unsurprisingly, the top three spots are players in rookie ball, and all three of them saw a majority of their time come in foreign rookie leagues. The gap between the best and worst players in a league is larger the lower down the chain you get.
So, what led to me choosing the Devin Mesoraco season over some of the others? Well, the first part is that unlike the top three OPS+ seasons, it came in full-season leagues and that makes a difference for me. Among the guys that did do it in a full season, Mesoraco’s OPS+ falls in the middle of Marquez Smith and Aristides Aquino. The difference there is that Smith put together his season at age 29, while doing it almost entirely in Advanced-A ball. It was a huge season, and it certainly wasn’t his fault that the Reds kept him in the California League despite his demolition of the league, but he was still 29-years-old in A-ball.
When it comes down to Aristides Aquino’s 2019 and Devin Mesoraco’s 2010, Mesoraco’s offensive output was better, but at mostly lower levels. But he was also three years younger and put up his season as a catcher. It made for an easy decision.
Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade: