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Travis d’Arnaud looks to bounce back in 2017

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The catcher struggled when healthy last year.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re in the mood to make yourself feel a little bit old, the fact that Travis d’Arnaud was traded to the Mets four years and three months ago might do the trick. He was the headliner of the deal that sent R.A. Dickey—fresh off winning the Cy Young award—from the Mets to the Blue Jays. The other prospects in the deal were absolutely nothing to sneeze at, but d’Arnaud was a consensus top twenty-five prospect in all of baseball at the time.

Since that trade, there’s no doubt that Noah Syndergaard has turned into the most successful player the Mets received. For d’Arnaud, things have been a bit up and down over the course of his four seasons with the Mets. He struggled in his first taste of the big leagues in 2013, which is far from abnormal for any prospect. He improved quite a bit the following year, as he hit .242/.302/.416 with 13 home runs, which was good enough for a 102 wRC+ and pretty decent for a catcher. And then in 2015, d’Arnaud flourished at the plate as he hit .268/.340/.485 with 12 home runs and a 130 wRC+, albeit in just 268 plate appearances.

And then came the 2016 season, which went about as poorly at the plate as it could have coming off his impressive showing the year before. In 276 plate appearances, d’Arnaud hit just .247/.307/.323 with four home runs. The precipitous power drop-off pretty much zapped his entire offensive value, and he finished the year at a 74 wRC+.

A couple of things have been consistent for d’Arnaud thus far in his major league career. His pitch framing—per Baseball Prospectus—has been excellent. But he’s also spent a lot of time on the disabled list with a variety of injuries. The framing is obviously an asset, but it would help d’Arnaud and the Mets quite a bit if he can avoid injuries for the first season since joining the organization.

As for his production at the plate, it’s a little too easy to read too much into what d’Arnaud did in either one of the past two seasons. Projections generally have him splitting the difference between those two single-season marks and being roughly a league-average hitter in 2017, and right now, that’s fair. Even if you throw out the first stint in the big leagues in which he struggled mightily, d’Arnaud’s line over the past three seasons was .250/.314/.408 with a 102 wRC+.

Things have gone well for d’Arnaud so far in spring training, both in terms of health and the results he’s seen at the plate. He’s also caught a couple of Noah Syndergaard starts after ceding virtually all of them to backup Rene Rivera last year. It’s all just spring training, but it’s encouraging that d’Arnaud has done well after reworking his swing coming into the year.

Between health and production, it would be less surprising to see d’Arnaud put together an above-average year at the plate. With his health, there’s no nagging injury or condition that’s affected him over the past few years, but a fully-healthy season won’t seem attainable until he does it for the first time.

The Mets have a good team heading into the season, and they can probably compete for a division title even if d’Arnaud is banged up, ineffective, or both. But if he’s mostly healthy and good, it would allow for some more wiggle room throughout the rest of the Mets’ lineup, which would allow everyone to breathe a little easier over the course of the team’s 162—or more—games.