The top catching prospect in baseball, Travis d’Arnaud, is wrestling with his swing. The presumptive starting backstop for the New York Mets is trying to eliminate two hitches that have been making him struggle at the plate since his MLB debut last August.
D’Arnaud says he’s hooking his wrists on his recoil when he sees a good pitch to hit. That’s making him late on fastballs. He’s also dipping his shoulders, which is causing an uppercut. A pronounced uppercut results in ground balls if the batter swings early (he hits the top of the ball) and pop-ups when he’s late (hitting the bottom of the ball).
D’Arnaud identified this issue last year, and seemed to correct it in the final days of the season. From September 10 on, he batted .300 with a .378 on-base percentage. He only had one extra-base hit (a double) in that span.
It seemed like a blip on the radar screen for a guy who’s hit at every level of professional baseball. He’s a career .286/.347/.476 in the minor leagues with 69 home runs in 2,150 plate appearances. He’s shown advanced plate discipline and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Scouts and talent evaluators around the league believe d’Arnaud will be an above-average hitting catcher in the major leagues.
He was so highly regarded that he was traded for not one, but two Cy Young award winners. For all those reasons, his struggles with the Mets last year seemed minor.
Now in Spring Training, d’Arnaud’s swing woes remain. There’s still no reason to panic, but this should be a legitimate concern. Anyone who’s played baseball seriously knows how difficult it can be to shake a bad swing habit. It takes repetition in a batting cage under careful supervision. A player has to practice his swing until it becomes as natural as the bad habit used to be.
Rest assured, d’Arnaud is doing just that with the assistance of hitting coach Dave Hudgens. He’s a smart ballplayer with a mature understanding of the game for a rookie.
D’Arnaud will be an asset to the Mets behind the plate thanks to his ability to call a game and frame pitches, but unless he can figure out how to control his swing, he won’t fulfill his potential as a hitter. Even if he does find his swing before the season starts, these are the kinds of bad swing habits that can recur, which could make d’Arnaud a streaky hitter going forward.