Travis d’Arnaud has gone from being one of baseball’s top catching prospects to an enigma during his time with the New York Mets. Baseball scouts used to gush about the former first rounder all through his trek in the minor leagues, where he posted a .290/.355/.483 batting line in parts of ten seasons, and a .339/.407/.622 in parts of five Triple-A seasons. It was d’Arnaud who was the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade that also brought the Mets Noah Syndergaard, and Met fans anxiously awaited his debut from the moment he joined the organization.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan for the oft-injured d’Arnaud who now enters his fifth year of major league service, but is still young in catching years having just turned 28 last month.
D’Arnaud came so very close to being rendered at minimum a backup catcher for the Mets and at worse an ex-Met if Sandy Alderson had been able to acquire his first choice at the trade deadline, All Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Luckily for TDA, that deal never materialized and the Mets turned their attention to Jay Bruce.instead.
Fast forward to Mets spring training where the talk in camp is all about d’Arnaud’s new swing, ditching the bat wrap that had served him so well since high school but became a big point of contention last season, his worst as a major leaguer. D’Arnaud posted a .629 OPS and 69 OPS+ in 276 plate appearances with just four home runs and 15 RBI.
After last season ended, manager Terry Collins expressed his frustration but held out hope that all wasn’t lost for his starting catcher.
“He is going to be one of our No. 1 projects in spring training. We’ve got to get this guy back, and we’ve got to get his bat going,” Collins said. “If he is what we thought he was going to be, then he’s a middle-of-the-lineup guy who can do damage from the right side. And you know how bad we need that.”
While the offense was at a career low for d’Arnaud, his defense took a big hit as did his ability to hold runners on. His caught stealing percentage took a big hit as 61 baserunners were successful against him and only 17 were caught stealing. And despite his excellent pitch framing skill, he began losing more and more playing time to the defensive minded Rene Rivera.
In the offseason, the Mets brought in Genn Sherlock as a catching instructor to help d’Arnaud improve his backstop duties, while hitting instructor Kevin Long was assigned to have him ditch the bat wrap and teach the one-time prodigy a brand new approach.
On Monday, d’Arnaud hit his second home run of the spring and is now batting .450 with a .800 slugging percentage and 1.250 OPS in the spring training stats don’t matter category.
“My results are more swinging at strikes and hitting the ball on the barrel,’’ d’Arnaud said after the Mets beat Miami 8-2. “For me, it’s being able to see the ball longer and not have to cheat to get to some pitches and just keeping everything slow and not try to do too much.”
D’Arnaud is at a career crossroads this season, and so far he’s only managed to produce as a replacement level player, and actually below replacement last season. Compounding matters is his propensity in avoiding the disabled list, something even his manager alluded to.
“You can’t keep losing your mainline guys for two months. He had 250 at-bats when he should have 500. You’re talking about a guy who missed half the season. We’ve got to get him better.”
The Mets clearly made the decision this Winter, to give d’Arnaud one last shot as the team’s starting catcher. Possibly because the free agent options just weren’t tempting enough. But I heard last September that front office support was dwindling for him, and if he doesn’t step up in the first half of this season and produce at a much higher level, the Mets will be looking at some external options as soon as this trading deadline.
It’s time for the real Travis d’Arnaud to stand up…. And deliver.