By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Travis d’Arnaud, Catcher, New York Mets
2014 season (Minors): 18 G, 63 AB, .397 BA, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, 1.298 OPS
2014 season (Majors): 108 G, 385 AB, .242 BA, 13 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB, .718 OPS
When R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012, the Mets decided that they’d seen the best of Dickey and could try to sell him at his highest point to solidify their future. While it hurt them in the short-term, the package of Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud was widely viewed as a good haul for the future.
Syndergaard is rated as the No. 11 prospect in baseball by MLB.com and is expected to arrive shortly, so there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the 6-foot-6 right-hander, but for a while it looked as though d’Arnaud might not reach his potential any time soon, if at all.
A former first-round pick of the Phillies, d’Arnaud was traded to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay in 2009 and wasn’t showing the promise Toronto expected before shipping him to Queens. When he got off to a slow start with the Mets, it was time to worry. d’Arnaud had a putrid .202/.286/.263 slash line in 31 games for the Mets in 2013, and it got even worse to start off last season. After putting up a .180/.271/.273 line with three home runs and 25 strikeouts in 39 games, the Mets decided it was time for a wake-up call, and the former perennial top-25 MLB prospect found himself back in the Minor Leagues.
Things weren’t looking good for the Mets’ hopeful catcher of the future, but then something clicked. d’Arnaud went 24-for-55 (.436) with six home runs in just 15 games with Triple-A Las Vegas, and before you could blink he was back in Queens. And fortunately this time, his success in the Minors finally carried over to the Majors. d’Arnaud employed a more patient approach — not necessarily drawing more walks, but being more selective at least — to put up a .309/.349/.506 line while recording a hit in 18 of his first 21 games back. In all after returning from the Minor Leagues, d’Arnaud hit .272/.319/.486 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 69 games. In the second half, d’Arnaud was second in runs scored and fourth in slugging among qualifying catchers.
While the strong second half shows d’Arnaud can hack it in the bigs at the plate — and should still improve — he still needs to work a bit on some aspects of his defense, and the catcher has made that a focus this offseason. He led the league with 12 passed balls last season, but is considered one of the better pitch framers behind the plate — a stat that is just starting to gain popularity in the baseball community in order to evaluate catchers and how much they help a pitching staff. Though he was one of the best at accounting for extra strikes by most measures, some have also credited that framing to his passed balls, so d’Arnaud is going to have to find a balance between the two.
The 26-year-old is still learning his pitching staff, but it’s a very young pitching staff that is also learning with him, so if all clicks, he could develop a lengthy relationship with the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Syndergaard, et. al. But if that is going to happen, he’s going to have to really show consistently both with the bat and the glove this season.
The Mets have their No. 2 prospect (according to MLB.com) Kevin Plawecki ready to push d’Arnaud if he doesn’t step up. New York hopes the relationship ends up being a symbiotic one with the two catchers pushing each other. With all the bright young pitching studs arriving at Citi Field, the Mets want to make sure they have someone to handle the staff, and the future at catcher is looking bright as well.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.