With all of the other holes they have, the Mets need catcher Travis d’Arnaud to come through in 2014. D’Arnaud was a big-name prospect when the Mets acquired him in the R.A. Dickey trade in the winter of 2013. Of course, there were some warning signals with Travis, he had a tendency to get injured and Toronto was already the second organization willing to trade him. Later, even though d’Arnaud was already 24 years old in April 2013, the Mets did not include him on the Opening Day roster. Early on during his minor league campaign Travis was injured again, and he missed most of the season with a broken foot. When he finally came up to the Mets he was bad, with a slash line of .202/.286/.263 in 112 plate appearances. The team almost has to go with d’Arnaud this year, but he enters this season at a crossroads. Turning 25 before Opening Day, he needs to begin producing or any worries about his future free agency that we heard about in 2013 will sound pretty silly. Yet, despite all this I feel optimistic about d’Arnaud as our 2014 backstop. Overall in his minor league stops he has proven he can hit, and I saw a solid compact swing from Travis. His defense was also better than I expected. Heading into 2014, how do you feel about our catcher?
I like him very much. The number one priority for a catcher has to be defense, getting acclimated, building relationships with the staff. To my untrained eye, I thought he looked good behind the plate. A quiet glove, as they say, not a twitchy guy back there. The feet look quick. And as you said, the swing looked good to me. I’d be patient with the offense, it takes more time for catchers than for players at any other position. And by “time” I mean: give it a couple of years.
It has been conclusively demonstrated that minor league batting statistics are reliable indicators of major league performance. Yes, there are exceptions up and down, particularly when “park effects” are considered. There are no sure things. But a player who hits throughout his minor league career is a very good bet to be a productive bat at the major league level.
What troubles me is that I keep reading speculation that he could be moved in a trade. This is a body I would not flip, though of course he’s not untouchable. Last winter, we identified catcher as the team’s primary need. It was a black hole. We traded a Cy Young winner to address that area of weakness. We applauded the trade then, I still love it now. I really think we can leave d’Arnaud alone for 2014, supported by a veteran, defensive catcher who can help in handling the staff. A mentor.
I should add that part of the speculation is fueled by widespread enthusiasm for Kevin Plawecki. There’s no denying it, he really had an outstanding 2013 season in A-ball. With him, I have concerns about below-average defense — reports of a slow body and a weak arm. I only saw him play once in person. Time will tell, but he certainly can’t help the team now. He needs to rinse and repeat at a more appropriate level. A year from now there’s a scenario where the club will be holding a strong hand. Right now, d’Arnaud is undervalued and Plawecki unproven. They could both be worth a lot more a year from today.
I don’t understand this school of thought. No matter what, Plawecki would appear to be years away. Doing this would be understandable in year one of a rebuild, not year four. If we are always trading away major league players to create room for guys who are not yet ready to play in the majors we will never win. And the fact is d’Arnaud had a rough 2013. This would be a classic case of selling at the wrong time. I expect Travis to be a Met in 2014.
I hope so, too. My constant worry with this particular management group, including Dave Hudgens as batting coach, is that they can really get into the skull of a young hitter in an extremely counter-productive way. I thought d’Arnaud took a lot of strikes last year, and I guess people are happy with his walk totals. But I want him to hit.
Look, this is old ground for us. Obviously, it’s a good thing for hitters to lay off pitches that are out of the strike zone. If you chase too much, they’ll never throw you a strike. Yet I have a fundamental belief here:
There’s a real danger in taking away a hitter’s aggressiveness. Not everybody can function that way.
Too much thinking, too much worrying about pitches-per-plate-appearance, too much fretting about what the coach will say if you attack a first-pitch fastball. That’s what I worry about, these kids can get tied up in knots. Lacking almost all evidence that these guys have helped any young hitters in the system, I wonder about the potential of the team “approach” doing real damage to a developing hitting talent.
The best thing about bringing in an established player — Cruz, Peralta, Granderson, Gonzales, whomever — is that these veteran hitters won’t have to listen to that methodology. They are proven hitters, getting paid. Hitting is a personal thing, not a one-size-fits-all unitard.
Starting now, Travis d’Arnaud will be given the opportunity to show he can be the next in line. Another big hitting Mets catcher would solve a lot of the teams offensive problems. As we wait to see what other pieces will surround him, seeing a full year from Travis is something tangible to look forward to.