Emergence of Frazier, Mesoraco bodes well for future
Tandem's offensive breakout a silver lining to injury-filled Reds campaign
Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco spent a lot of time together in the Reds' farm system. Both were first-round picks by Cincinnati in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, and together they matured from Class A Dayton to Triple-A Louisville to the Majors, where each made his debut in 2011.
Fittingly, both have had breakout performances in 2014.
"We knew this was a big year for us," Frazier said. "We knew what our capabilities are and we took it full storm. Me and Devin, we just keep working hard. You've got to understand what your weaknesses are and stay away from those. You know your strengths, so when your strengths come around -- like a pitch you want to see or playing defense -- you've got to take care of them."
Little did either of them know before the season began, however, that the 2014 campaign would be a trying one for their club. With former National League MVP Award winner Joey Votto limited to 62 games so far because of a left distal quadriceps strain, as well as three-time All-Star Brandon Phillips missing 33 games due to a torn thumb ligament, the Reds fell out of the playoff race with a rapid second-half decline.
Another former All-Star, Jay Bruce, is enduring his poorest offensive season. The outfielder admitted last month that he hasn't been 100 percent since undergoing knee surgery in May.
Despite the palpable disappointment and frustration with the way things have gone in Cincinnati this season, the offensive contributions from Frazier and Mesoraco have been a silver lining, sparking hope that 2015 could be different.
Frazier leads all NL third basemen in home runs with 22 (he's hit four while playing first base) and stolen bases with 15 (his other five coming while playing first). He's also raised his batting average over last year's .234 clip by 43 points. Frazier's WAR (wins above replacement) is 4.2, third among NL third basemen.
Despite missing 23 games due to injury, Mesoraco is tied with the Braves' Evan Gattis for the Major League lead in home runs as a catcher (22) and is second in RBIs as a backstop (70), bettering his batting average over last season by 40 points while raising his OPS from .649 to .901 His WAR of 4.3 is fourth among NL catchers.
According to a metric that combines offensive statistics into a number of runs -- weighted runs created -- the pair has accounted for 29 percent of Cincinnati's offense this season.
The Reds will enter the offseason in a challenging financial position with respect to upgrading their offense. They have potential trade chips in their starting rotation, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon being possible candidates to move in exchange for a bat.
But with big long-term money committed to Votto, Phillips and Homer Bailey -- not to mention Bruce set to receive a total of $24.5 million in 2015-16 -- there's not much more that can be done beyond that to improve the offense. Minor League options are thin, as most of Cincinnati's farm depth is in pitching and there aren't any hitting prospects with potential for immediate impact at the big league level.
But the rise of Frazier and Mesoraco has their teammates excited about next season's possibilities.
"It's really impressive to have those guys on our squad and be able to hopefully trust in them in the future for a lot of years," said Votto. "You always want to be able to develop pre-free-agency talent. You don't want to have to go out and get people at expensive rates. To be able to get Billy Hamilton and Todd and Devin and have them for a while -- relatively cheap compared to their performance -- it's great."
"Devin and Todd have turned into really nice, viable players, and All-Stars," Bruce said. "To have Joey back healthy, me back healthy, Brandon back healthy … that right there is something I think everyone looks forward to."
No one could have predicted that two players who combined to bat .235 in 2013 would become All-Stars and carry such a big offensive load the following season. Without their development into the offensive forces they've become, the window of opportunity for this Reds team might have begun to close.
Instead, as Frank Sinatra proclaimed in one of Frazier's walk-up songs this season, the best may, indeed, be yet to come.
"I think if me and Todd continue to have success like we're having, that's a very formidable middle of the lineup there," said Mesoraco. "I think going forward, it's definitely an exciting time if everything comes together."