Travis d’Arnaud, the highest rated catching prospect in MLB, has a lot to prove coming into the 2014 season as the New York Mets’ expected everyday catcher. He’s twice been involved in trades for a Cy Young winner, helping teams acquire both Roy Halladay and R. A. Dickey. He’s been an All-Star at every minor league level he’s played and was the Eastern League MVP in 2011. In 31 big league games with the 2013 Mets, d’Arnaud demonstrated his prowess behind the plate, showing some skills that rank with the top receivers in baseball.
Yet after batting .202 with an OPS well below .600 and suffering a second major injury in as many years (a torn PCL in his left knee in 2012 and a broken left foot in 2013), the pressure is squarely on d’Arnaud to make the leap from “top prospect” to solid Major Leaguer.
“It’s cool and all to have that prospect label and everything, but I’d really rather just be known as a good player,” d’Arnaud told the Daily News recently. “I am ready for that.”
Is he really up to the task? Let’s say I think Mets fans are in for a surprise this season.
Defensively speaking, d’Arnaud is nearly there. While still a farmhand, the Mets would send him MLB scouting reports to study. He devoured them. The pitching staff raved about his composure and aforementioned ability to “steal” strikes. His positioning and footwork are well above average, and d’Arnaud is committed to improving his pitch-calling during spring training.
On the offensive end, d’Arnaud says he suffered through an adjustment period that belied his true capabilities (.286 BA, .823 OPS in seven minor league seasons).
“I was trying to throw my hardest and hit my hardest to prove myself every time I got a chance. I was trying to prove myself and I just wasn’t myself,” he recalled on those first 31 games.
Spending significant time at a Southern California training facility to simplify his swing this offseason, the Mets’ defensive anchor has shown a great deal of maturity while adjusting to all-around expectations.
d’Arnaud may or may not evolve into the kind of backstop that gives you 20-plus home runs and 70-plus RBI year in and year out, but it’s his attitude and work ethic that gives me optimism to believe this will be a special year for the rookie. And as we all know too well, Mets fans have got to believe.