By Mark Maloney
Punxsutawney, Pa., is known for a groundhog named Phil, who comes out of his Gobbler's Knob burrow every Feb. 2 to predict the weather for the rest of the winter.
There's even a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which notes on its Web site that there has been one Phil prognosticating — with 100 percent success — for the last 120 years.
Soon, though, Phil might have competition for the title of Punxsutawney's most famous resident.
When the Reds Caravan recently visited Lexington, Mesoraco and Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips were on hand to represent future and current Reds.
Mesoraco, 20, is a 6-foot-1 200-pounder and was drafted by the Reds directly out of Punxsutawney High School. He joined Dan LaMar (1979) and Dan Wilson (1990) as the only catchers taken with Cincinnati's top pick.
At "Punxsy," as locals often refer to their town, Mesoraco blew out his elbow as a sophomore pitcher. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, he spent his junior season as a DH, then went behind the plate as a senior.
He set Punxsy career records for runs (122), hits (101), doubles (25), homers (18), walks (91) and stolen bases (35). The Reds signed him for $1.4 million.
A right-handed batter and thrower, he made his pro debut with the 2007 Gulf Coast Reds. His modest 40-game totals of one homer, eight RBI and a .219 batting average didn't stop Baseball America from listing him as the sixth-best prospect in the Reds system.
His first full season of pro ball came last year with the Dayton Dragons of the Low-A Midwest League. Over 83 games, he hit .261 with nine homers and 42 RBI despite nagging thumb injuries. He hit .294 before the All-Star break, .245 after.
"Everything's a huge adjustment compared to high school," Mesoraco said. "Every single aspect — catching, hitting, calling the game. It doesn't even really compare.
"You've got to get used to the way they're doing things and just roll with it. You've got to do what you can do, and your talents will show."
As for handling Reds pitching prospects, well, Devin's not in Punxsutawney anymore. Spanish is needed.
"Oh, yeah. ... I had a couple of years of Spanish in high school," Mesoraco said. "I wasn't great, but I can communicate a little bit with them guys. ... It's sort of fun talking to them sometimes. Different cultures and everything."
Baseball America rates Mesoraco as the No. 10 prospect in the Reds system this year and notes that "once his thumbs healed, he was Cincinnati's best player in instructional league."
The Reds have invited him to spring training. Pitchers and catchers report to the City of Sarasota Sports Complex in Florida on Feb. 14. Position players are due Feb. 17.
"I'm going to big-league spring training, so I'm real excited for that," Mesoraco said. "(I) get to learn from the major-leaguers and everything. But, for the season, I'm just hoping to be in High-A (Sarasota). But we'll see. It doesn't matter where you start; it matters where you finish. I'm just hoping to have a good year and, hopefully, I'll just help my team win ball games."
Mesoraco picked up some tips last spring from Johnny Bench. The Hall of Famer "looked me up in the minor-league clubhouse and just gave me a few points, looked at my glove and just told me to work hard and go out and do my thing.
"I mean, to learn from somebody like that, no matter what he tells you, you've got to listen to him. He's the greatest catcher of all time, you know."