- 1) Travis d’Arnaud – 1st Round S, 37th overall – R/R – C – 2/10/1989 – 6’2″ 195 lbs.
|2008||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A–A||PHI||64||267||6||23||39||0.305||0.367||0.464||0.831|
Stats by: Baseball-Reference.com
Though it should be no surprise, drum roll please. Quantrill’s Quandaries’ #1 Blue Jays Prospect of 2012 is… 23-year old catcher from the LBC, Travis d’Arnaud. The final piece of the Roy Halladay trade with the Phillies to make the Majors, Travis d’Arnaud has the potential to have the biggest impact. Hampered by injuries during his minor league career after being drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 draft out of Lakewood HS, d’Arnaud had put together two elite offensive seasons in AA in 2011 and AAA in 2012 before tearing the PCL in his left knee (the less important cousin of the MCL/ACL) in late June while attempting to break up a double play. The injury sidelined d’Arnaud for the remainder of 2012 and cooled talk of him supplanting incumbent catcher JP Arencibia by Spring 2013. Though knee injuries can be devastating for catchers, d’Arnaud should make a full recovery and because there was no further damage to his knee should not be affected behind the plate.
D’Arnaud’s first season in the Blue Jays’ organization was rather disappointing as he only managed to appear in 71 games because of a back injury for the 2010 Dunedin Blue Jays. Offensively, d’Arnaud couldn’t find his groove in 2010 but would return healthy and ready to slug in 2011. d’Arnaud would finish 5th in wOBA, 4th in OPS, and 5th in wRC+ on his way to winning Eastern League (AA) MVP at age 22. Though young for the league, d’Arnaud emerged as a legitimate power threat as he slugged 21 HRs (4th in EL). d’Arnaud would end up tearing a ligament in his thumb playing in the World Cup for Team USA but arrived healthy in Spring 2012.
Given his enormous success in AA at 22, d’Arnaud was widely anointed as the Jays’ No. 1 prospect prior to 2012. Assigned to the hitter-friendly PCL, d’Arnaud was expected to torch the league and force his way to Toronto by September 2012 at the latest. However, the Californian catcher started the season slow OPS’ing a pedestrian .778 in April with 2 HRs before exploding for 10 HRs in May and a 1.144 OPS.
Interestingly, d’Arnaud received several starts at 1B in Las Vegas to prepare him for a potential platoon situation with incumbent Toronto catcher JP Arencibia. Though d’Arnaud’s bat is a much more valuable asset when he starts behind the plate, the Jays’ front office likely believes it would play at 1B at least in the short-term while the Jays figure out who will start behind the plate for the long-term. Considering the incumbent at 1B Adam Lind has struggled mightily the past few years especially against lefties, breaking in a rookie at first base should not hurt the Jays’ offence as much as one might think.
Earlier in his career, d’Arnaud was primarily a pull-hitter that tried to yank everything over the fence but has since developed his approach to hit to all fields. Though he has struggled with plate discipline throughout his minor league career, talent evaluators believed that he still had the potential to hit for average at the Major League-level. Mark Anderson wrote prior to 2012 that d’Arnaud doesn’t have ability to adjust mid-pitch but that he does within an at-bat/game. He believes that d’Arnaud improved his pitch recognition and patience in 2011 and this likely contributed to his reduced strikeout rate in 2012.
Kevin Goldstein, then of Baseball Prospectus, wrote prior to 2012 that d’Arnaud had the ability to hit .280-.300 because of his “quick bat” and “outstanding hand-eye coordination”. Though he had made “strides in his plate discipline… it could still use refinement.” Anderson currently rates his hit tool as solid with the potential to be above-average.
Goldstein wrote prior to 2012 that d’Arnaud had the potential to hit 25 HRs annually at the Major League-level and his injury-shortened season in the PCL did not nothing to dispel that notion as he slugged 16 HRs by the time of his injury in June despite a slow start to the season. Power numbers are inflated in Las Vegas but its hoped that his plus bat speed and compact swing will produce plenty of power for him to be an above-average Major League catcher in that department.
Goldstein wrote for Baseball Prospectus prior to 2012 that: “d’Arnaud has the potential to be a plus defender, but he still needs to improve his receiving skills and the quickness of his release.” Mark Anderson, of BaseballProspectNation.com, wrote that d’Arnaud’s:
“Receiving and pitch handling improved dramatically in 2011 thanks in part to an increased focus on the intricacies of the position. Still struggles with better breaking balls, particularly in the dirt, but that should improve with experience. Overall blocking is solid. Game calling is still a work in progress.”
While there are still concerns about d’Arnaud’s work behind the plate, most talent evaluators are confident that they will be resolved to some degree with greater experience. Catchers’ defensive peaks typically don’t occur until a player’s late 20s, early 30s and so d’Arnaud should have plenty of time to refine his game behind the plate and his bat should allow to do so in the Majors. Keith Law of ESPN.com likes his defense which he rates as plus already. Mark Anderson rates him as an average defender behind the plate with the potential to develop into an above-average or plus catcher in the Majors.
In a post, Jeremy Warnemuende of MLB.com wrote “d’Arnaud’s defense has been equally impressive [as his bat],… his throws from home to second base have been clocked as low as 1.84 seconds.”
Mark Anderson wrote that the ball didn’t always come out of d’Arnaud’s hand “clean” and that his footwork and release could get “sloppy at times”. His raw arm strength ranged between average and plus but he believes that it should sit at the upper range as he gains more professional experience behind the plate.
Mark Anderson wrote that he was consistently under average from home to first and thought that he’d slow with the rigours of playing behind the plate throughout his career. Though he may be under average for a Major Leaguer, d’Arnaud will likely be faster than the average catcher in his career. He may not win games with his legs, but he won’t lose them either.
In the end, d’Arnaud’s ceiling is much higher than Arencibia as he projects to hit for both average and power and provides superior defence behind the plate. d’Arnaud should, barring a major setback, supplant Arencibia as the Jays starting catcher at some point in 2013. Before the season, Goldstein’s ‘perfect world projection’ was that d’Arnaud could be an All-Star catcher who could hit in the middle of the order. His 2012 season has likely done nothing to shake that prediction except for increased concerns about his injury risk and long-term ability to stay behind the plate.
In August, Gregor Chisholm featured an interview with Alex Anthopoulos on his blog, North of the Border in which the two discussed Toronto’s catching situation and d’Arnaud’s path to the Majors:
d’Arnaud would be a candidate for DH and 1B?
“I don’t know about first, we had him take some balls at first base in Las Vegas but right now I think Edwin has pretty much established himself as the guy getting the bulk of the reps at first. I think Travis, at the end of the day, can certainly force his way up here. We’ll find at-bats for him if that was to end up being the case.”
On how d’Arnaud’s injury impacted his timeline…
“He would have been up now, the way he was playing in Las Vegas. When J.P. got hurt, Travis certainly would have gotten the opportunity to come up and play the same way when John Buck was hurt a few years ago, J.P. was having a great year down there and got the opportunity. There’s no question he was definitely performing well enough and worthy of a call-up like some of the other guys have gotten but unfortunately he got hurt. Long-term he’s going to be fine, we still think he’s going to be a tremendous player and a tremendous prospect. This really doesn’t change anything. When players are good you find room for them.”
Where d’Arnaud starts the 2013 season following his injury-shortened 2012 season is unclear. But all signs point to him starting the season in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons since he missed a lot of at-bats with his PCL tear. It was initially hoped that he would be healthy in time to make up for some lost time in the Arizona Fall League. However, d’Arnaud has not recovered in time and the Jays chose to send Sean Ochinko to fill their allotted catcher’s slot.
If incumbent JP Arencibia were to be moved in the offseason in order to shore up the team’s needs in the off season then it should be expected that d’Arnaud would break camp with the big club. He was already ready for the Majors when he went down with the knee injury. He may be hampered by his long lay-off in the early months, but d’Arnaud should still be able to be a Major contributor to the team. If Arencibia is retained, d’Arnaud may see some time at 1B/DH in order to fit his bat in the lineup next year which wouldn’t be as much of a waste considering it gives the team insurance against extended struggles/injury.
ETA: Spring-Early Summer 2013; All-Star 2015… hopefully.