Mets backstop Travis d’Arnaud has been waiting a long time for this, the day he would enter Spring Training as the favorite for the starting catcher job. For all intents and purposes, it should have come a couple years ago; he has been dominating minor league competition for quite some time. The well regarded catching prospect has posted an OPS .914 at Double-A or Triple-A in each of the last three season. The problem, of course, is that in those three years, he has only played in 213 games, only 99 games in the past two years.
D’Arnaud is something of a tragic prospect in this regard. This year marks the fifth consecutive season that he has made Baseball America’s top 100 list – he ranks 38th – a distinction few players, if any, have ever held, a distinction d’Arnaud only holds because his arrival in the big leagues has been so frequently delayed by injuries.
Minor leaguers who win the approval of both scouts and stats are a rare commodity. Just look at these bites from Keith Law of ESPN’s 2013 scouting report on the 25 year old catcher: “plus raw power,” “good hip rotation,” “solid hand-eye coordination for contact,” “throws well,” “handles pitchers well.” As mentioned before, the stats back it up. In his last full season, 2011, d’Arnaud hit .311/.371/.542 with 21 home runs in 114 games. Of course, there was a flipside to that scouting report, phrases such as “can’t stay healthy,” and “gets hurt at least once a year.
The Mets had hoped that d’Arnaud’s durability issues were behind him when they acquired the young receiver as the center piece in the R.A. Dickey deal. In typical fashion, however, d’Arnaud fractured his left foot less than a month into the 2013 season, preventing him from making the Major Leagues until the end of August. Once he was in Queens, Travis wasn’t particularly impressive, hitting an anemic .202/.286/.263, but at 112 plate appearances, the sample size is far too small. His prospect pedigree and minor league track record portend far better results.
If he remains healthy, which the Mets insist he will. They argue that the injuries were freak injuries and not indicative of any long term underlying issues. To some extent, this is true. On their own, each of his recent injuries – the leg fracture from last season, the PCL tear from 2012, and the back injury from 2010 – would all not be a concern on their own, but put together, they make one wonder if d’Arnaud will ever be healthy, particularly as he handles catcher, the most rigorous position on the diamond.
On the other hand, this is a prospect who was traded for a Cy Young award winner, twice, having been also included in the deal that sent Roy Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia. Just the fact that Baseball America and other media outlets continue to put him in their top 50 despite all the injuries is a testament to his ability, and the value he can bring on both sides of the ball. If d’Arnaud can finally be healthy, there’s no reason he can’t be a contender, or even an early favorite for the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award. But that’s a big if.