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d’Arnaud Gives Mets Player to Build Around

With news of the R.A. Dickey trade coming to fruition, the New York Mets organization will reportedly acquire the best catching prospect in baseball (narrowly edging Seattle’s Mike Zunino). Prior to the 2012 season, I ranked d’Arnaud as the 37th best prospect in baseball on FanGraphs’ Top 100 Prospects list — behind fellow catchers Jesus Montero (13th overall, and term used loosely) and Devin Mesoraco (17th), and just ahead of Yasmani Grandal (40th). All three of those catchers graduated to the majors in 2012; d’Arnaud definitely will be moving up on the Top 100 list that will be coming out this March, even after missing most of the second half of the season thanks to a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

The California native was also the top prospect in Toronto’s system when I released the Jays Top 15 Prospects list about a month ago. He has the potential to develop a plus bat (for a catcher) with average power. Defensively, he should be at least average and has a solid chance of becoming above average behind the dish. In other words, he should be a big upgrade over incumbent Josh Thole, who is coming off of a tough year and was reportedly flipped to Toronto in the deal. I did note, though, that when I’ve seen d’Arnaud play he’s looked like a “low energy” guy, or perhaps reserved is a better word. Despite that, all reports suggest he’s a good leader.

d’Arnaud immediately becomes the best hitting prospect in New York’s system and will challenge Zack Wheeler for the best overall prospect when I start breaking down the Mets’ Top 15 Prospects list early in the new year. With the trade of Thole, the catching prospect could open 2013 in the majors as the club’s starting backstop, although it probably wouldn’t hurt for him to receive a few extra months of seasoning back in triple-A, considering the missed time in 2012.

Although Jays fans will no doubt be saddened by the lose of the d’Arnaud, the organization is dealing from a position of strength and still has two catchers remaining on the Top 15 list in A.J. Jimenez (8th overall) and Santiago Nessy (10th). Jimenez is a defensive whiz with a fringe-average bat (for a catcher) who underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow but should be ready to play in April or May. He could be assigned to either double-A (a return engagement) or triple-A at that time. Nessy is a young, big-dollar-signee with big-time power out of the Dominican Republic and will play in full-season ball for the first time in 2013. He’s a ways away from helping out the big league club but also flashes solid defense.

In an effort to strengthen the depth in the bullpen, Toronto traded utility player and third-string catcher Yan Gomes to Cleveland earlier in the off-season for Esmil Rogers so the catching depth in the upper levels of the system takes a bit of a hit and would be somewhat worrisome should an injury occur to either J.P. Arencibia or Thole . The club claimed on waivers two catchers with big league experience this off-season in Bobby Wilson and Eli Whiteside but both were subsequently claimed when Toronto attempted to slip them back through waivers to free up some space on the 40-man roster.

The trade of d’Arnaud did not shock me. When I spoke to a club official about him earlier in the off-season, I got the feeling he was viewed as expendable… for the right price. Toronto’s starting catcher of the present and foreseeable future, Arencibia, is not a great offensive player but he shows above-average power (when bat meets ball). I’ve been told that the organization values him for his clubhouse presence, dedication to his craft and rapport with the pitching staff.

This deal has a very good shot at being good for both organizations as it positions Toronto very well to make a run at the American League East title or one of the wild card slots. It allows the Mets to continue building for the future and gives the organization an offensive player to go with some of its impressive young arms.