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The Travis d’Arnaud Era Has Begun

Ever since the Mets acquired top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud this offseason from the Blue Jays in exchange for R.A. Dickey, fantasy owners and fans alike have been counting down the days until his arrival. That day finally came on Saturday when incumbent John Buck left the team for a couple of games on paternity leave. The question now is two-fold: does d’Arnaud stay up when Buck returns and become the regular catcher for the rest of the season, and, if so, how will he perform?

Let’s tackle the first question to begin. Since the Mets are going nowhere, it would seem like the obvious answer should be that d’Arnaud remains with the club and pushes Buck into a backup role. No official decision has been made, however Ken Rosenthal tweeted out the following yesterday:

That’s the way it should be so now d’Arnaud becomes an immediate pick-up for all two-catcher leaguers and a strong consideration for one-catcher leaguers. With playing time potentially out of the way, it’s time to focus on his performance at the plate.

Update: The Fox Sports story by Rosenthal has been published confirming the above. However, it notes that d’Arnaud will “possibly [play] four to five days a week”. That sounds like he might play a little less than a typical every day catcher, which hurts his fantasy value a bit.

Unfortunately, d’Arnaud has not been the model of health, as he has suffered through his fair share of injuries. In 2010, back issues limited him to just 292 plate appearances. Then in 2011, he sustained a thumb injury that ended his season early. And again in 2012, his season was cut short when he tore the PCL in his knee. Then earlier this year, he broke his foot, which resulted in just 131 plate appearances across three minor level stops. Already having the injury prone tag slapped on at a young age is something he’ll have to shake, especially since he plays a position that frequently results in various nicks and bruises.

In the lower levels of the minors, d’Arnaud showed average power and above average contact ability. Then in 2011 at Double-A, he enjoyed a power breakout, as his ISO spiked to .231 and he blasted 21 home runs in just 424 at-bats. That power surged even further in 2012, when his ISO jumped to .262 and he slammed 16 more bombs in 279 at-bats. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate also increased as a side effect beginning in 2010.

It’s a tiny sample size for sure, but it’s possible that something clicked during his time at Triple-A this year when he was actually healthy enough to stand in the batter’s box. He walked 21 times versus just 12 strikeouts in 78 plate appearances. This was a significant change as previously d’Arnaud has displayed rather poor plate patience, taking walks at below league average rates. If he could add this skill to his arsenal, he has real potential to become one of the top hitting catchers in all of baseball.

For a power hitter, he has posted very respectable strikeout rates, even when those rates increased from 2010-2012. But the key to his future batting average might very well be his BABIP. The good news is that he has generally posted strong BABIP marks in the minors, though they have bounced around a bit. Although BABIPs are higher in the minors, they still seem to translate pretty well to the Majors, though some regression must be factored in of course. So along with possessing above average power and home run potential for a catcher, he also has a good chance to contribute in batting average as well.

It’s true that the Mets offense is rather weak at the moment, so the potential for strong RBI and run numbers aren’t really there, especially if d’Arnaud continues hitting down in the order. There is other news that isn’t bad though, and that revolves around the ballpark. Before the Mets moved the fences in at Citi Field, the park significantly suppressed right-handed home runs. However, our park factors suggest that the fence move did the trick and last year, the park actually inflated right-handed home runs. So no need to worry about the park hurting d’Arnaud’s performance.

Given the likelihood that d’Arnaud will play regularly the rest of the year, his power potential and the possibility of growing plate discipline, he could be a real asset down the stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was also a top 12 catcher, meaning if you’re desperate in a shallow, single catcher league, he could be just the man with the upside to fill that hole.