Travis D’Arnaud, Las Vegas, and Catching Prospects

Travis D’Arnaud has always been a highly-regarded prospect. Even before his numbers took a leap forward in Double- and Triple-A, scouts liked his approach at the plate and thought his athleticism would bode well for his developing defense. He was the Mets’ prerequisite for any R.A. Dickey trade, and getting him was an important position-player prospect piece in their rebuilding plan.

And yet, there are plenty of reasons to doubt him, reasons that go beyond his specific track record or the general fact that he is a prospect.

Perhaps the biggest asterisk on D’Arnaud’s production so far comes from his Triple-A park. Las Vegas is a hitter’s park in the most hitter-friendly league in the minors. Front offices, and this site, have tools used to normalize those numbers, but extreme parks sometimes have effects that reach beyond their dimensions. Confidence can breed confidence. Bill Petti found evidence that extreme hitter’s parks have a negative correlation with team wins, which suggests that there are ballpark effects that go beyond our surface park factors.

We won’t solve the small park’s problems here, but there have been a steady stream of Blue Jays’ positional prospects making the trip from Las Vegas to the major leagues since the park was added to the Jays’ system four years ago. What do they teach us? Here are the team’s prospects that played in Las Vegas and in the major leagues — with their team prospect rank according to Marc Hulet, isolated power, plate appearances, and park- and league-adjusted weighted runs created numbers.

Anthony Gose #1, 2012 479 0.133 106 189 0.096 73
Brett Lawrie #2, 2011 329 0.308 163 707 0.168 114
J.P. Arencibia #3, 2011 959 0.263 115 895 0.211 89
Adeiny Hechavarria #10, 2011 606 0.119 113 137 0.111 73
Eric Thames #13, 2011 472 0.228 145 684 0.182 97
Darin Mastroianni #25, 2011 364 0.113 90 189 0.097 87
Brett Wallace #1, 2010 423 0.208 121 792 0.127 92
Moises Sierra #5, 2010 422 0.183 115 157 0.150 76
Average 0.194375 121 0.14275 87.625

If you remove the sole non-top-fifteen player on this list, the average Las Vegas ISO is .206 (125 wRC+), and the average major league ISO is .149 (87 wRC+). D’Arnaud’s slugging percentage should take a hit leaving the friendly confines of Vegas, which has a home run park factor of 116, top five in all of minor league baseball.

It’s not brain surgery to say that an offense-friendly park can help a player put up friendly offensive numbers. It is still sobering to see that D’Arnaud had an almost identical ISO in Las Vegas as Arencibia, at almost identical ages, too. If you characterized them generally, you could say that they were both slugging catchers with below-average walk rates and average-ish strikeout rates that enjoyed friendly high-minors hitting environments. Too many similarities between these two hitters might make Mets fans squeamish.

That one-player comp ignores the scouting, which has consistently favored D’Arnaud’s hitting approach and his developing defensive skills. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some disagreement about D’Arnaud’s ability to receive, even if there isn’t any doubt he’s a top-two catching prospect in baseball.

And yet that designation alone doesn’t come without an asterisk. Catchers have the second-lowest ‘superior’ turnout on the infield. Only 16.7% of catcher prospects in Baseball America’s top 100 turn out to be elite in the major leagues. Second basemen (9.5%) are worse, but second basemen are found, not grown — often, they are defensive-challenged former shortstops and arm-challenged former third basemen.

But look over the list of recent top-100 catcher prospects, and you’ll see it’s a tough position to prognosticate. The catchers that were once on Baseball America’s top 100 list, and also managed 200 plate appearances in a season — they’ve put up a 96 wRC+ on average. All catchers in the league had a 95 wRC+ last season.

So are we saying that, since he was a top-100 catching prospect, Travis D’Arnaud can be a major league catcher? One that has a 16% chance of being superior? That seems like an underwhelming central piece for the reigning National League Cy Young winner.

But we are guilty of comping D’Arnaud to players that are beneath him again. Not only is Arencibia in this group, but so are players like Adam Moore, Guillermo Quiroz, and Austin Romine — catchers that were never elite prospects like D’Arnaud. Limit the list to catchers that appeared in Baseball America’s top 25 since 2000, and you get much more exciting outcomes. Mostly:

Joe Mauer 1065 4552 94 12.2% 10.4% 0.323 0.405 0.468 133 40.1
Victor Martinez 1149 4819 143 9.5% 11.1% 0.303 0.37 0.469 121 29
Buster Posey 308 1255 46 9.3% 14.7% 0.314 0.38 0.503 142 13.7
Matt Wieters 509 2031 65 9.0% 18.5% 0.26 0.328 0.421 100 12.9
Carlos Santana 344 1459 51 15.4% 18.0% 0.247 0.363 0.443 124 8.9
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 474 1733 64 8.1% 29.4% 0.239 0.302 0.418 88 3.9
Jesus Montero 153 622 19 5.8% 18.6% 0.267 0.31 0.408 99 0.4
Devin Mesoraco 72 237 7 8.4% 18.1% 0.205 0.274 0.353 63 -0.1
J.R. House 32 63 3 1.6% 25.4% 0.167 0.206 0.367 46 -0.3
Jeff Mathis 496 1587 34 6.6% 27.0% 0.198 0.256 0.314 51 -0.5

If we give Devin Mesoraco and Jesus Montero ‘incompletes’ as grades, you’re left with five superior outcomes, one decent catcher who’s basically been league average twice, and two busts in Jeff Mathis and J.R. House.

Mathis is *probably* a false comp. He only once had an ISO over .200, and though that came in the PCL like D’Arnaud’s excellent 2012, it was more of out an outlier. D’Arnaud ISO’ed over .200 in the Eastern League in 2011. Mathis had an 8.2% walk rate and a 17.2% strikeout rate in the minors, and D’Arnaud… 6.9% and 17.8% respectively. That’s a bit of a skin-crawling comp, but even the more glowing Mathis scouting reports didn’t talk of his bat the same way as scouts talk about D’Arnaud now. House? He’ll remain a boogeyman for catcher prospects, the TINSTAACP-inspiring question mark placed on the knees (and labrums) of players that have to come out of a squat and throw to second base so often.

And all of this is without really tackling D’Arnaud specifically. The player himself provides one last possible issue: he’s a large man. At six-foot-two, there’s a chance that his size will limit his longevity. He’s 24 next year, and may see a drop-off in his ability to stay on the field before his years under team control are over, or so suggests that research from Jeff Zimmerman.

Prospects are iffy. Prospects whose best offensive seasons came in hitter-friendly parks might be more so. And (large?) catching prospects might even provide an additional layer of uncertainty. By all accounts, Travis D’Arnaud is an excellent all-around catcher and a great get for the rebuilding Mets. Given all those question marks, though, it’s still good news that there are other interesting names coming back to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal.

[ISO = isolated power, or slugging percentage minus batting average (an attempt to isolate power). wRC+ is indexed weighted runs created, a stat which weights each offensive contribution and then park- and league-adjusts it. You could say a player with a 110 wRC+ has shown offense that is 10% better than league average.]

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

53 Responses to “Travis D’Arnaud, Las Vegas, and Catching Prospects”

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  1. DonDraper says:

    Curious, was McCann never a top 100 prospect? I think he jumped from A ball to MLB in one year, so perhaps he snuck up. Still, he was an all star at age 22, which I believe is 2 years younger than Travis will be on opening day.

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  2. Impossibles says:

    Poor fangraphs mets fans. How about an article to give them something to cozy up with over the holidays?

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    • James says:

      What about the one where Dave said it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could compete in 2013? I guess that was pre-trade though…

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  3. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Per the gamelogs on his player page and a bit of excel work I get these H/A splits for 2012 in AAA:



    Yes, Las Vegas is a fantastic hitter’s park in a league full of them, and it looks that it helped his power play up even more, but this isn’t Dante Bichette at Coors Field. He took this show on the road. It’s quite possible that each of the players before him had similar splits, but it will take me a bit of time to confirm that.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      New Hampshire also augments home run power, and the PCL is full of power parks. I get you, and his home/away splits were identical in NH, now that I’ve checked. But a .289 home ISO in Las Vegas vs a .234 road ISO, just means I’m going with a major league ISO that doesn’t really look like his LV ISO much.

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        Please don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a nice read, and I’m working off a tangent here. It makes me wonder where Las Vegas sits on the spectrum of the PCL, which we know is going to show better hitter numbers than basically any other league.

        To that end, I went through the minor league game logs for just the AAA years for these guys and looked at home/away:

        Each guy is different and you can see how each changed, but when we combine each guy and take a weighted average of each of the categories we start to lose some noise.

        For this, still limited, set of guys I’m seeing a 2% decrease in batting average at home vs. on the road, but everything else was better at home:

        2% better OBP than on road
        3% better SLG than on road
        3% better wOBA than on road
        10% better Iso than on road

        I think this really hits at the heart of what you’re showing. Las Vegas does a ton to inflate power relative to the rest of the PCL. It would be a fool’s errand to try to compare the tiny MLB sample sizes, but in a couple of years it will probably affirm that we’re looking at guys who never quite reached their power ceiling for those just looking at the raw numbers. They might appear fine at getting on via the walk or the hit, but their power is never going to look as good as it did in Las Vegas.

        The Jays should be looking to get fair value or better on any guy showing good, but not great, or wide Iso splits between home and road as long as power continues to be a widely sought after commodity. Travis d’Arnaud is likely to be a good hitter in MLB, but your study and my extension thereupon tell me that he’s not nearly to hit with the kind of power that many might be expecting.

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  4. fjtorres says:

    A lot of what I’m hearing about d’Arneau is reminding me of Sandy Alomar Jr. Tall catcher, good bat, good power potential. Injuries, injuries, injuries…

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  5. Spike says:

    very fair write up. I tend to agree that TDA has been a little overhyped.

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  6. Spike says:

    who is knocking it from the Jays side?

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      to be fair, ive seen a number of commenters knocking both sides of the trade. not in this thread of course….

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  7. Sparkles Peterson says:

    Comparing D’Arnaud to Mauer, Posey, and Wieters as prospects seems every bit as easy to dismiss as comparing him to Arencibia and Mathis.

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  8. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    i sense something is afoot here James. if that is your real name…

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  9. Peanut says:

    Funny and annoying at the same time!

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  10. vivalajeter says:

    James, it’s bad enough that you post this in every Dickey thread – but do you have to post it twice in this thread?

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    • Renan says:

      What the…? Not to be a jerk or anything but I posted James’ comment on Dave’s Saturday post essentially word for word. Someone is stealing my crack analysis! (Which I guess I should be grateful for since everyone seems to dislike the sentiments I’ve expressed, but still…)

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    • Telo says:

      Wait… what?

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  11. Switters says:

    James, why do you keep cutting and pasting the same comment over and over on all the Jays-Mets articles? I thought your post was great the 1st time, but I don’t know why you keep posting it over and over. No disrespect.

    I too like the deal for the Jays. “Knuckle up” for the ride in 2013!

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  12. Baltar says:

    If you limit his “comps” only to players in top 25 prospect lists, the “comps” are obviously going to make a very impressive list.
    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see the point of this.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      He’s a top 25 catcher, so I compared him to top 25 catchers. The whole piece is just the context of D’Arnaud as a prospect. None of it is to say he’s terrible, but all of it does say he’s risky.

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  13. RedsFan says:

    Shouldn’t the recent Top 100 catchers list also include Wilin Rosario?

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  14. KM says:

    Not sure if its been mentioned already, (i dont really have the time to read every post on this site), but interesting as a side note that D’Arnaud has now been a big piece in two trades for elite pitchers (Halladay), and a strange twist of fate that he’s landing back in the NL east.

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  15. SF 55 for life says:

    In terms of a statistical comparison I was thinking D’Arnaud could turn out to put up similar numbers to a healthy, better defensive version of Ryan Doumit. Taking a look at their minor league numbers (not exactly a great way to make comps but still) show the two have had similar minor league careers.

    Doumit- .290/.364/.450, 8.4 BB%, 15.7 K%, .174 ISO, 37.5 XBH%

    D’Arnaud- .286/.343/.474, 6.9 BB%, 17.8 K%, .188 ISO, 39.2 XBH%

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  16. kman says:

    I like this article, but I do think that the rarity of even “good” catchers is a very important factor that needs to be considered. If you look at a list of catchers who have accumulated 6.0 WAR over the last two seasons, you get a list of 10. If you remove Napoli (no longer a catcher), Ruiz (steroids) and Avila (one year wonder?) from that list, but throw in Salvador Perez, you have a list of 8 that includes Perez, Mauer, Posey, Weiters, McCann, Santana, Molina, Montero. I actually think that’s a pretty accurate list of who are widely considered the top 8 catchers in baseball, and I think there’s a significant drop off from there to the next tier of more “league average” catchers.

    If some of those names are comps, or at least cohorts, for TDA, which they are, then he’s an excellent gamble to take simply for the reason that having a catcher in this top tier is something most teams never have the opportunity to do. If you think about it, every year there are at least a hand full of elite pitchers that become available either through free agency and trade. If you’re willing to spend the money/prospects, there will always be elite pitchers available to you, when you feel it’s the right time to spend on them. If you look at the list of top catchers though, with the exception of McCann, all of them are locked up for the long term, and not going anywhere. And rightfully so, because catchers of that caliber are so hard to come by.

    Catcher is one position that most teams don’t ever even have the opportunity to upgrade at even if they wanted to. So even if he’s a risk, taking a chance on building around a top catcher is an opportunity that may never present itself again in the next 10 years for a particular team.

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    • wobatus says:

      Just an aside, I don’t think Avila qualifies as a one year wonder yet. I know you put up a ? next to that so you aren’t saying it’s so. His wRC+ was 104 this year, and he was out with and played through injuries. His overall career numbers suggest he will put up some more 3 WAR and better years.

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    • wes says:

      Ruiz wasn’t suspended for steroids.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Ruiz was suspended for recreational drug use, not steroids.

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  17. Lames says:

    I don’t see how this post is even all that funny from the Fangraphs readers perspective. Yes it sucks to have to read the first sentence of the same post two times (or three, of twenty-four) in a single article on a single website. But if you’re going to go for annoying humor, you might as well do it for non-premium, base-level websites. Plus I think James has even less value to Fangraphs than to a website like ESPN. Even if one of those posts draws a laugh (hardly a sure bet, especially when none of them are funny), it’d probably be two or three decades before he’s producing on the level of a juan pierre’s mustache or WellBeered Englishman. At that point you’re looking at websites directly downloaded into your mind. To say nothing of the fact that regular spam has already invaded Fangraphs and will have probably posted even more redundant posts by then. If you’re going to take your shot, it’s way better to push all the buttons of ESPN readership and build a name that can not only annoy people, but make some noise once you’re in there. I’m pretty sure I’d happily trade James for the chance at a non-annoying reader from any other website to experience a spam-free reading experience. Isn’t that the goal of creating a baseball website and baseball analysis in general?

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    • Jaime says:

      Yo no veo cómo este movimiento es aún todo lo que discutible desde el punto de vista Blue Jays. Sí que es una mierda que renunciar a sus dos mejores perspectivas (o mejor dos de tres) en una sola operación para un lanzador individual. Pero si vas a hacerlo, puede ser que también lo haga de una prima, el as de nivel de lanzador. Además, creo que ambos TDA y Syndegaard tienen menos valor a los Azulejos de que a un equipo como los Mets. Incluso si esas dos chicos filtra hacia fuera (apenas una apuesta segura, especialmente cuando uno de ellos es un lanzador en una bola), probablemente sería dos o tres años antes de que se está produciendo resultados a nivel de estrella de Toronto. En ese momento usted está buscando en el núcleo existente presionando en sus mediados de los años 30. Por no hablar del hecho de que los Yankees y los Medias Rojas probablemente se habrá recargado por entonces (sobre todo con los Yanquis de estar fuera del período en el que está cortando la nómina para meterse debajo del impuesto de lujo). Y eso es no decir nada acerca de las mejoras de los Rays y los Orioles. Si piensa que la división se puede ganar, y usted no está satisfecho con un año de ser el mejor equipo en el béisbol no llegar a los playoffs como equipo Jays del pasado reciente, no tiene un montón de sentido para medio culo y sólo tipo de comprometerse a ir después de la divisón. Si usted va a tomar su tiro, es mucho mejor que empujar todas sus fichas en la mesa y construir un equipo que no sólo se puede conseguir en los playoffs, pero hacer algo de ruido una vez que estás ahí. Estoy bastante seguro de que me volvería a operar con cualquier perspectiva de la oportunidad de experimentar una Serie Mundial. ¿No es ese el objetivo de acumular las perspectivas y los jugadores en general?

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:


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  18. tz says:

    Love that link to the 2003 Jeff Mathis scouting report. It opens with this memorable line:

    Joe Mauer is universally regarded as the best catching prospect in baseball. But Angels farmhand Jeff Mathis isn’t far behind.

    Even the great John Sickels can be completely 180 degrees wrong sometimes.

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  19. Jaker says:

    Great article Eno but you seem to flip-flop about halfway through. On one hand you provide caution, on the other you whittle down the list of comparables to one that puts TDA at about 50% chance of elite status. I’m not sure how to feel (as a Jays’ fan). I love the trade for the Jays but it will be tough love if TDA blossoms into a top-5 catcher at the MLB level.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I see what you’re saying, but it was really an exploration. LV matters a little, but not a ton. JPA is a bad comp. Mathis is a word of caution, Salty might be too, I can’t see him getting all the way to Wieters’ level, but maybe. So, context says, let’s calm down about any Piazza comps, but let’s also get excited about a really decent catcher… probably.

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  20. Renan says:

    I agree with the general sentiment of the article (that d’Arnaud, and all catcher prospects, are inherently risky), but I’m not sure that should really change the analysis of the trade. Aside from one good Lo Duca year, catcher has basically been a black hole for the Mets since Mike Piazza left, and there wasn’t any help on the horizon. And it’s not like catcher is an easy position to fill during free agency. Who was the last star level catcher to be traded or sign with another team during his prime? Piazza? Maybe Pudge, depending on how you see his career during the Marlins/Tigers years? When teams have good to great catchers they hold on to them like grim death. Your only option to acquire that kind of player is to either draft them or trade for them as prospects (e.g. Santana, Montero to a lesser extent). Better to roll the dice with a top-2 catching prospect and hope you develop a star than sit on your hands and make do with Josh Thole’s numerous deficiencies.

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  21. Brooks says:

    Now do an article where you take all those players home and away from las vegas splits and compare them to TDA’s away split. Just out of curiosity.

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    • Brooks says:

      another interesting tidbit for the Arencibia comparers is that Arencibia hit .282/.302/.496 in AA when he was 23 and TDA hit .311/.371/.542 there when he was 22. Just something to think about. And I don’t mean that at all sarcastically. It may not mean much, but at least needs to be taken into consideration.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that TDA is a better prospect and performed better than JPA in the minors. But I did want to take that step on the way to trying to find a TDA comp… not that I succeeded. But he might be somewhere between Wieters and Salty statistically if you asked me.

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  22. Tom says:

    The JPA comp is also somewhat dependent on looking at his repeat year in AAA and ignoring his first year there (where he posted a wRC+ of 92) His combined #’s in AAA really aren’t that similar, and the AA #’s aren’t that close either.

    Even the walk rates aren’t all that similar – JPA struggled to break 5% until his repeat year at AAA, TDA has been in the 6-8% range (still not great but not the same as JPA)

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  23. BubbaNoTrubba says:

    The one issue with D’Arnaud is his size. A catcher should be 5’11” or maybe even slightly shorter.

    Being tall adds weight, but not only that, the lengths of the limbs are longer, thus making the strain on knee joints bigger.

    This is a very real concern when considering catching prospects. Something that teams strangely enough seem to ignore.

    The ideal catcher physique is that of Kurt Suzuki, who at 5’11” likely will be able to catch well into his late 30’s, if he cares to.

    Pudge was “only” 5’9”, and he had a very long career.

    Joe Mauer is a very bad fit as a catcher, and so are guys in his mold.

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  24. Jamichi says:


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  25. Dave says:

    You say his best offensive season came last year in AAA, when really it came in 2011 in AA. Is that a mega-hitter-friendly park too? If not, that discredits basically this entire article.

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  26. TC says:

    I think the long term issue with TDA is what position will he be playing? Between his recent knee surgery and his previous back issues all occurring at such a young age, it’s not out of the question to think that his future position might end up being 1B? And obviously his trade/prospect value shrinks considerably if he goes from one end of the defensively spectrum to the other.

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  27. everdiso says:

    I like Travis but I’ve always felt he lacked true star upside. Safe prospect (aside from the injury risk), but no real wow tools or numbers to buy into.

    He can hit for average but I doubt we’re looking at a .300 hitter here. He’s needed extremely good babip to break the .300 mark in the minors, so .275-.280 is more like it in the bigs if he develops as expected.

    His walk rate is mediocre at best in the 6-7% range, and that likely goes down in the bigs. so we’re looking at maybe 40-50 points added to his average for a .325ish OBP.

    To turn himself into a star player he’ll need to maintain the .200+ ISO that he’s had the last couple of years in the minors, and I’m not sure I buy into that kind of power from Travis. It’s possible, though.

    I would guess Travis is likely to maintain an MLB line somewhere around .275/.325/.450/.775 if he doesn’t bust, which will play well if he he’s able to stick at C, not so much if he’s forced to 1B/DH.

    Thing is, D’Arnaud has always been rated higher than his numbers. Scouts have always liked the way he looks out there. He seems like a natural, and I guess that might indicate he has more upside than his MILB numbers currently suggest. Maybe if he can finally stay healthy he does turn into a .300/.375/.500/.875 beast down the line, but I think that’s a longshot.

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  28. flatjacket1 says:

    I think you need to take how he did before Vegas into consideration. If you have a .400+ wOBA in AA, then you cant hold that against him in AAA. Posey played in the PCL, and being a year younger than TDA helped but TDA had a better AA than he did.

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  29. Alwhin says:

    I’m with Telo….what??

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