The New York Mets made a long-awaited promotion this past weekend, bringing catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud to the major leagues. One of the key pieces of last winter's R.A. Dickey deal with the Blue Jays, d'Arnaud has seen his development hampered by injuries, but he's getting his chance now.
D'Arnaud was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the supplemental first round in 2007, from high school in Lakewood, California. He comes from a baseball family; his brother Chase was drafted out of Pepperdine in 2008 and reached the majors with the Pirates in '11. Travis was considered a top prospect as a catcher with above-average potential on both offense and defense. He hit .255/.319/.419 with 13 homers in 126 games for Low-A Lakewood in 2009, then was traded to Toronto as part of the big Roy Halladay trade that winter.
Back pain limited d'Arnaud to 71 games in 2010, resulting in a .259/.315/.411 line in 263 at-bats for High-A Dunedin. He was healthy in 2011 and responded with an outstanding .311/.371/.542 mark for Double-A New Hampshire, with 21 homers, 33 walks, and 100 strikeouts in 424 at-bats. However, injuries struck back in 2012: he tore a posterior cruciate knee ligament in a June collision, missing the rest of the year. He was playing great before getting hurt, hitting .333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in 67 games for Triple-A Las Vegas.
Back in Las Vegas to open 2013 (the Mets and Jays had Triple-A affiliate switches this year), d'Arnaud was attacked by the injury bug again in late April, suffering a broken foot which required him to wear a protective boot for several weeks. After rehab work he got back in action for Vegas earlier this month, going 8-for-20 with three doubles and a homer in seven games, which was enough to convince the Mets that he was ready for the majors.
All told, in 86 Triple-A games between this year and last, he hit .328/.402/.588 with 18 homers, 40 walks, and 71 strikeouts in 381 plate appearances. The pro-hitting environment in Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League in general has helped, but in relative terms his production has remained strong (wRC+ 150 in 2011, 147 in 2012, 175 in 2013).
D'Arnaud is a 6-2, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born February 10, 1989. He's considered a strong defensive catcher, combining athleticism, mobility, good footwork, leadership skills, and a decent arm into a complete package. He had trouble throwing out runners earlier in his career, but this has improved steadily: he threw out 19% in 2008, 23% in 2009, 30% in 2010, 27% in 2011, 30% in 2012, but has caught 50% this year. Yes, the sample is small but scouting reports back up the improvement.
Offensively, his best tool is power. He was rather impatient early in his career but has made progress with the strike zone. He looked dramatically improved in that department for Vegas this spring and summer, when he wasn't hurt anyway. His power usually comes when he pulls the ball, although he is more willing to take something the opposite way than he was earlier in his career.
I don't see him as a .300 hitter at the major league level, but he should be good for a solid .250-.270 range, with an adequate OBP and better-than-average power. He could exceed those projections in his peak seasons.
Back in February, I wrote a Prospect Smackdown article comparing d'Arnaud with Mike Zunino of the Seattle Mariners, who is d'Arnaud's primary competition as the top catching prospect in baseball. I concluded that I preferred Zunino very slightly because he was two years younger. Zunino has had his own set of problems this year. Catchers get hurt a lot and they often don't have linear development curves.
Although I don't see him in the Buster Posey or Joe Mauer class of superstar catcher, d'Arnaud produces quality play on both sides of the ball. If he can avoid getting hurt too often, d'Arnaud will be a fixture in the Mets lineup for years to come,