GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When Punxsy native Devin Mesoraco hit an eighth-inning home run during the first week of spring training with the Cincinnati Reds March 2, manager Dusty Baker said that the slugger hit the ball a mile, a mile-and-a-half.
The home run broke a 6-6 tie and gave the Reds a 7-6 win over the Chicago White Sox.
The lengthy blast was the first of many impressive spring training cuts from Mesoraco, who is primed to make the jump to the majors for the first time this season.
Mesoraco, a 2007 first-round draft pick of the Reds, was perceived to be a bust after hitting .240 with 18 home runs and 87 RBIs through 215 games and 755 at-bats during his first three minor league seasons. In 2010, he broke through, batting .302 with 26 home runs and 75 RBIs, as he advanced from Class A Lynchburg to Double-A Carolina before concluding the season at Triple-A Louisville.
The catcher used last year's success as a springboard for his third invitation on the Reds' Major League Spring Training camp. And this year, with his most spring at-bats (33) and spring games played (19) with the Reds, he stood out.
Mesoraco hit .455 this spring, good enough for second-best on the team. He took a more aggressive approach to the plate, walking just once and striking out only two times.
"I'd say I was a little bit more aggressive," he said. "Being a younger guy, no one knows who you are; they're going to come after you. I was looking for a good pitch to hit, and I found one pretty early in the at-bat."
His aggressiveness was noticed by Baker, who has praised the slugger for his work ethic and major league potential.
Mesoraco is currently behind major league veterans Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan on the Reds' depth chart. Both are with the Reds right now.
Should either player succumb to injury, Mesoraco is likely to be the next player in line, but he doesn't want his call-up to be a short-time stint.
"It's been a life-long dream to get there," he said. "Right now, my focus is on getting to be a major leaguer and staying up there whenever I get there. There are a lot of guys that bounce back and forth."
Right now, Mesoraco, the Reds' minor league player of the year last year, is in minor league camp in Goodyear, Ariz. He'll spend the next few days there before heading to Louisville, Ky., Sunday to prepare for the Louisville Bats' International League season, which begins Thursday, April 7.
He has been locked in at the plate since last season — he even shortened his swing a hair in the offseason, which has only helped at-bats. But at the end of the day, his call-up to the Reds will depend on his progress behind the plate.
"My hitting is what it is. I believe I am going to hit. For me, catching always comes first. That's a priority," Mesoraco said. "All the little aspects (of the position) have to be pretty much not an issue. You don't want to be up there working on stuff.
"You want to be ready," he said. "It's a matter of fine tuning things. All those things have to be 100 percent correct and ready to go."
Mesoraco caught 41 percent of runners attempting to steal last year. He also had 13 passed balls. But his No. 1 priority as a catcher is creating a better relationship with the organization's pitchers.
"It's just a matter of me being more experienced behind the plate and working with the pitchers," he said. "Just as far as being able to control those guys and have them be comfortable with me behind the plate and me be comfortable with them."
Mesoraco is the No. 3 Reds' prospect, according to MLB.com. He's also No. 45 on MLB.com's Top 50 prospects list and No. 5 among catchers.
In a Feb. publication of USA Today Sports Weekly, he was No. 74 on its list of 100 Names You Need To Know in baseball.
Mesoraco said all those rankings are fun, but they're more for the fans and whomever else likes to hear about them.
"I want the organization to know I can handle the position this year or next year," he said. "I'm just focused on taking care of things that I can take care of."
The Reds won their season-opener Thursday, 7-6, over Milwaukee at home. Hernandez completed a 4-for-5 game with a walk-off three-run home run.
Mesoraco may not be needed at the major league level just yet, and he's content where he is right now. The biggest thing on his mind at this moment is leading the Bats to another division championship.
"It's always exciting at the beginning of the year," Mesoraco said. "In Louisville, I think we're going to have a heck of a team. It'll be an exciting team to be on."