CINCINNATI -- It wasn't by plan or design going into 2016, but Tucker Barnhart wound up as the Reds' regular catcher for most of the season because Devin Mesoraco was injured. Just like it was this year, the plan for '17 is for Mesoraco to be back behind the plate.
And that could mean Barnhart is back on the bench. He's prepared for that possibility.
"Obviously Devin in the lineup gives us the best chance to win, without question," Barnhart said just before this season ended. "Whether that means I catch 20 games or end up catching 120 games next year, first and foremost I want Devin back and healthy and in our lineup."
Mesoraco missed most of 2015 with a left hip injury and Barnhart split catching duties with Brayan Peña. This year, Mesoraco lasted 16 games before he needed season-ending left shoulder surgery, and the former All-Star later had right hip surgery.
The Reds expect Mesoraco to resume catching drills in mid-to-late January. While a full recovery and return to catching is believed likely, it can't be assumed for a player who has had three major surgeries in two years.
"Winning in the Major Leagues trumps anything there is. I want to be a part of a winning culture and a winning team," Barnhart said. "Getting back one of our key pieces in Devin is what we need. I think whatever role I'm given when that happens, I'll be more than happy to take it and run with it and help the team win as much as possible."
Barnhart, who turns 26 in January, batted .257/.323/.379 with seven home runs and 51 RBIs in 115 games, including 108 starts. He hit .355 (33-for-93) with runners in scoring position.
Defensively, Barnhart ranked fourth among qualified Major League catchers on Fangraphs with an 11.0 defensive metric -- which measures fielding and positional adjustment combined above the average. He allowed five passed balls over 931 2/3 innings caught 33 percent of runners attempting to steal. Barnhart also worked five of the team's eight shutouts.
A 10th round Draft pick of the Reds in 2009, Barnhart worked his way up through the system before debuting in 2014. He always prepared himself in offseasons for catching regularly but learned to deal with the particularly challenging grind of doing it in the Major Leagues.
"You have to be so in tune with the game plan and with what the other hitters do, what our strengths and weaknesses are and try to form a plan and execute it throughout a game," Barnhart said. "There are times when my mind isn't necessarily on the offensive side of the game or the physical part of the game. It's how can I help the pitcher get through a tough inning with my pitch calling or do I have to make a mound visit and try to break up momentum? The mental part of it for me has been - I wouldn't say unexpected -- it's been eye-opening for me and something I can hope I can continue and grow and become better and better at."
Barnhart was pleased with his overall performance.
"I've been very happy with the durability I've shown throughout the season," he said. "I was able to play pretty much every day. It's something I've wanted to do since I signed. I feel like I've shown that I can handle the job."