What's all the hubbub over Travis d'Arnaud anyway? Let's find out.
Though the Dickey trade has yet to be finalized, it's certainly fair to begin brushing up on some of the principals of the deal. Simply put, the 23-year old catcher is widely considered the top catching prospect in baseball and one of the top ten prospects in all of the the minor leagues. He was no doubt the crown jewel of the Blue Jays farm system and now -- alongside Zack Wheeler -- almost certainly represents the cream of the crop among Mets minor leaguers.
In terms of who is the no. one prospect in the system, that's tough to say. It's pretty much splitting hairs at this point, depending on personal preference -- which is why I added a poll below.
Career Statistics, via Baseball-Reference.com (click image to embiggen):
Travis d'Arnaud (@Travisdarnaud) -- pronounced darno -- hails from Lakewood, California where he grew up a Dodgers fan. In fact, he fittingly idolized Mike Piazza -- which explains his position of choice. He is the younger brother of fellow minor leaguer Chase d'Arnaud, an infielder in the Pirates system.
After a stellar high school career that earned him three straight All-American honors, the younger d'Arnaud decided to follow in his brother's footsteps and committed to play for Pepperdine University. However, come June of 2007 the Phillies drafted the highly athletic prep product with the 37th overall selection, in the supplemental round of the June draft. Ultimately, the $832,500 signing bonus was too much to pass up and he joined the ranks of pro baseball.
Later that summer the 18-year old d'Arnaud made his pro debut for the Phillies' rookie-level Gulf Coast League club. He appeared in 41 games and scuffled a bit, batting a mediocre .241/.278/.348 along with 23 strikeouts versus just four walks. While some questioned if he'd have enough bat, his athleticism and feel for the position behind the plate stood out from the onset.
The following summer d'Arnaud answered those questions about his offense batting .305 with an .831 OPS -- despite a somewhat aggressive timetable that had him in full-season ball by the end of his age 19 season. He was less impressive in a full season at the same level in '09, though he began to showcase his excellent power game knocking 13 home runs. It was in this period that d'Arnaud began garnering attention as a blue chip prospect in the Phillies farm system, alongside guys like J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek.
For that reason, in the winter of 2009 d'Arnaud was plucked out of Philadelphia's system in the trade that brought back Roy Halladay. Unfortunately, the young catcher missed about half of the ensuing 2010 season with back woes, posting a somewhat disappointing .259/.315/.411 line in 71 games. Even worse, his strikeout rate skyrocketed above the 20% mark
With his prospect stock down a bit and questions re-surfacing about whether his bat would play up enough to profile as a first-division big league regular, the 2011 season was a turning point for d'Arnaud. In 114 games for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, d'Arnaud batted .311/.371/.542. That's not a typo; he slugged .542. That translates to a .231(!) ISO. As well as an Eastern League MVP. The strength of his 2011 season carried him to the top of Blue Jays prospect rankings and comfortably into overall top 100 lists.
But the best part? He followed up this breakout campaign by doing it again last year in Triple-A. This time, d'Arnaud batted .333/.380/.595, good for a .262 ISO. In just 67 games he knocked 16 home runs at Las Vegas -- coincidentally, the new home of the Mets Triple-A affiliate starting this spring. Now his strikeout rate remains around the 20% mark, but with that kind of plus-power it's forgivable.
The only problem is that he once again missed a large chunk of the season due to injuries, as he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee breaking up a double play in June. Fortunately, he suffered no damage to the ACL or MCL. Additionally, the PCL is considered the least serious of the three, requiring no surgery to fully heal. However, somewhat serious back and knee problems -- in addition to a less serious torn thumb ligament last winter playing for Team USA -- for a 23-year old catcher are nothing to scoff at, meaning his overall health -- and perhaps his reps at the position -- will have to be closely monitored.
At the plate, d'Arnaud utilizes above-average bat speed to generate the kind of plus-power that is rare to see from the catching position -- not to mention a very strong hit tool as well. He does strike out and he doesn't walk as much as you'd like -- meaning he's not going to be Buster Posey. But he does have the potential to one day approach that kind of offensive ceiling.
What's more, scouts are just as excited about his abilities behind the plate. From John Sickels, following the 2011 season:
"His throwing arm is well above average, and he's ironing out some flaws in his mechanics that inhibited his throwing at times. He threw out just 19% of runners in 2008, but improved that to 30% last year and again this year. He is very mobile. His blocking isn't always perfect, but with more experience his glove projects as above-average in all respects."
In short, d'Arnaud projects as a future organizational cornerstone behind the plate at the major league level. In many ways he's the perfect fit for this organization in that he immediately addresses a number of deficiencies within the system: The absolute dearth of catching talent, right-handed hitting and premium power. What's more, he should be pushing for a major league role by mid-season in 2013.
While the loss of Dickey hurts on many levels, the addition of a prospect of this caliber may very well go down -- alongside the 2011 addition of Zack Wheeler -- as one of the fundamental building blocks of a team that could contend for a very long time.
Now that you know who he is, watch some 2012 video of d'Arnaud crushing baseballs:
Out of curiosity, who do you now feel is the Mets top prospect?
Zack Wheeler (593 votes)
Travis d'Arnaud (269 votes)
Someone Else (25 votes)
887 total votes