Travis d’Arnaud Could Be A Valuable Trade Chip For Mets
It’s a fact of life not awfully appealing to Met fans. In baseball, as with most things in life, in order to actualize the goals and successes you aspire, you’re going to have to give something up. That’s often a trademark of a professional athlete, musical performer, business executive, or anyone who acquires the skills that place them in the top tier of their profession. In muddling through the 10,000 hours of practice and repetition these folks exert reaching those lofty level, most forfeit many of the less taxing pursuits available to those unwilling to make such a commitment.
As the Met brass huddles in Port St. Lucie brainstorming ideas how they might improve next years baseball product, it’s very likely they are throwing around the possibility of trying to get something by giving something up. A relatively pedestrian free agent class increases the likelihood the Mets might be considering the trade route to fill some of their glaring weaknesses. If that’s the case, who might the Mets be considering as potential trade bait they could give up?
I can almost hear the screeching, but it’s quite possible the Mets could be considering using their promising catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud to entice trade interest. Three reasons leave me thinking it may make sense for the Mets to place d’Arnaud’s name on the table. For starters, Travis d’Arnaud has a proven track record in attracting baseball suitors. Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, d’Arnaud was sent north to Toronto as a major trading chip in a deal that brought former Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay to the City of Brotherly Love.
After two sizzling seasons of minor league baseball, first in the Double-A Eastern League in 2011, and then in the Pacific Coast League in 2012, d’Arnaud’s profile was elevated to ‘elite prospect, the best future catcher in baseball.‘ The Eastern League MVP in 2011, d’Arnaud was batting .333 with 16 HR’s and 42 RBI’s when an injury cut short his season in 2012. That was not enough to discourage trade interest and once again the young catcher proved his baseball value in a second trade for a Cy Young award winner, this time R.A. Dickey of the Mets.
That proven ability to attract accomplished major leaguers, baseball talent rated at the top of the game, is the first reason the Mets could consider moving d’Arnaud again. The second factor that makes the young Met catcher vulnerable is the minimal offensive output of many major league catchers.
Anyone who plays fantasy baseball understands the limited offensive value of major league catchers. It’s not uncommon for fantasy owners to forgo selecting their catchers to the middle rounds or later on draft night. That’s because the offensive numbers of catchers generally lag behind those of other position players on the field. This summer only seven major league catchers with 250 or more at-bats batted .280 or higher. Thirteen big league catchers hit 15 or more home runs and eighteen had 50 or more RBI’s. A prime example is Pittsburgh’s Russell Martin, a highly respected catcher, who this year batted .226 with 15 dingers and 55 RBI’s.
D’Arnaud’s late season cup of coffee is no real indicator of how he’ll hit as a major leaguer. His trouble at the plate in limited appearances has done little to impact his standing as the best catching prospect in the game.
As it is with most young catchers beginning their major league career, work as a backstop comes first. A catching prospect thrust into an every day role late in the season has his hands full earning the respect of his new pitching staff with his receiving skills. d’Arnaud drew rave reviews with his quickness and agility behind the dish and his ability to frame pitches. That framing helped Met pitchers realize a decided jump in called strikes when d’Arnaud took over as the every day backstop. Offensive concerns were clearly secondary. And, d’Arnaud seemed to be just getting going as the season wound down hitting over .300 in his last ten games.
Even so, the Mets brass might reason that with offensive output a hit or miss prospect on many major league team, and d’Arnaud a magnet attracting quality trade interest, perhaps the young catcher could be used to procure added offensive value somewhere else on the field.
Factor number three, a Met minor league system loaded with intriguing catching potential just might make it easier for the Mets to consider this scenario. Let’s take a look at some of those young Met catchers.
Met fans got a snapshot glimpse of Juan Centeno in late September. Small in stature (5’9”) Centeno is developing a reputation as a solid defensive backstop. I watched him for one season in Binghamton and was very impressed with his defensive play. That summer in Double-A, Centeno has a .991 fielding percentage and threw out 41 percent of runners attempting to steal. The 2007, 32nd round pick in the draft is quick and assertive behind the dish. A contact hitter, Centeno has a good eye, and almost no power, but hit .285 in Double-A and .305 this summer in Las Vegas.
Centeno split the catching duties in Vegas with Francisco Pena. Pena, the son of catching great Tony Pena, has the genetic makeup of a catcher. The 6’3”, 230 pound backstop was signed by the Mets as an International Free Agent at 17 in 2007. Pena has power potential but has been an enigma of sorts in the batter’s box. The young catcher hit .257 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s in 236 at bats this year in Las Vegas. Calm and relaxed behind the plate, Pena is credited with making quality progress improving his catching skills over the last two seasons.
Blake Forsythe a promising catching prospect with a baseball pedigree (brother Logan plays for San Diego), was labeled one of the top collegiate backstops during his first two seasons at Tennessee. During Forsythe’s sophomore season he was a workhorse catching in 53 of the Vols 55 games and playing as a DH in the two games he didn’t
catch. Forsythe was the Vols offensive catalyst that year hitting .347 with 15 dingers and 46 RBI’s. An Forsythe led Tennessee with 40 base-on-balls helping give the young catcher a .486 OBP, something that had to catch the eye of Met scouts.
With the baseball world expecting even bigger results the following season, Forsythe’s batting numbers dipped. The 6’2”, 220-pound backstop has always shown power potential and the home runs continued, but, Forsythe struggled with a high swing and miss rate, a puzzle he has yet to solve in his first years as a professional.
This summer after Pena was shipped out to Vegas, Forsythe became the every day backstop in Binghamton. The hitting pattern continued when the B-Met catcher batted only .192, striking out 101 times with only 32 base-on-balls. Forsythe proved he can hit the long ball slamming 10 home runs, at least three walk off round trippers.
Although Forsythe struggled in the batter’s box, he worked brilliantly behind it. At the conclusion of the season, Minor League Baseball and Rawlings selected the Binghamton catcher as the 2013 Gold Glove Award winner of all ten domestic full season minor leagues. Forsythe committed only 1 error in 80 games, totaling 701 chances good for second in the Eastern League. Forsythe’s .999 fielding average led the Eastern League. By the way, the B-Mets .978 team fielding percentage was also tops in the EL. Binghamton committed only 109 errors, the fewest of any Eastern League franchise and the 2nd lowest total in B-Met history.
Underrated and unsung, Xorge Castillo keeps getting it done as he moves upward through the Met system. The Arizona State alum was Forsythe’s back-up during the second half of the season in Binghamton. An honorable mention Academic All-Pac 10 designee, Castillo uses those smarts calling a baseball game. I loved watching him work a game behind the dish this summer. Built like a Molina, the kid has great footwork, frames pitches exceptionally well and sports an above average throwing arm. Forsythe and Castillo made a formidable receiving tandem, second to none in the Eastern League. That could be the influence of B-Met skipper Pedro Lopez who was a minor league catcher throughout his baseball playing career.
And, Castillo continues to impress with the bat. In limited plate appearances Castillo hit .353 and .330 as a junior and senior for Arizona State. Xorge batted .296 this summer for Binghamton, the highest batting average on the B-Mets after Cesar Puello was suspended in baseball’s steroid mess.
Last, but certainly not least, is Kevin Plawecki, a three-year starter at Purdue University. I’ve never watched Plawecki play in person, yet from everything I read, the kid gives me a Gary Carter feel. “Highly competitive,” “a hustler,” “great energy,” “a throw-back,” “tough guy,” “well-rounded,” “not much he can’t do,” are some phrases used to describe Plawecki. Time and time again, I read reports that Plawecki lacked the raw athleticism of some of the best catching prospects in the game, and time after time I read that everywhere he goes his teams win, he hits and defends.
At Purdue Pawecki was outstanding, never batting below .341and drawing 4 walks for every one time he struck out. With Plawecki as their backstop the Boilermakers won their first ever Big Ten Title and were seeded #1 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament for the first time. Plawecki was the Big Ten Player of the Year, the Big Ten Tournament Outstanding Player, the Purdue Male Athlete of the Year, a National Johnny Bench Award Finalist, National Semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy and on and on.
A contact hitter with a smooth, flat swing that laces line drives, Plawecki struck out only 29 times in 629 at bats over his collegiate career. He’s a reliable hitter who during his senior year at Purdue batted .365 with a .454 OBP and a .567 slugging percentage
Plawecki is projected to rise extremely fast throughout the Mets minor league system and to date that has been the case. He’s tough and he’s durable and he hit .305 in 449 at-bats in a split A-Ball this season between Savannah and Port St. Lucie. Plawecki’s combined OBP was .390 with a .448 SLG.
Smart and observant, Plawecki called his own games throughout college. He shows solid footwork behind the dish and blocks the plate well. One supposed caution flag is a average or even below average throwing arm. Yet at every level he plays, Plawecki throws out between 35 to 40 percent of all the runners who attempt to steal. Go Figure. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit excited at the prospects of watching this kid play in Binghamton next year?
For all the reasons stated, I think it’s reasonable to assume that if the Mets can swing a deal for a corner outfielder or a reliable power hitting first baseman, it’s possible Travis d’Arnaud could be dangled as a trade chip in a multiple player deal. I’m not saying that’s something I prefer. I really like Travis d’Arnaud and believe he’s going to be a solid major league catcher. But, that old adage hasn’t changed; in baseball and in life, if you want to get something badly enough, you’re going to have to give something up.
About the Author: John Bernhardt
John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.
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