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Waiting in the Wings: Travis D'Arnaud

March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (15) poses for a portrait during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (15) poses for a portrait during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Today's subject is another well known quantity whom I was trying to avoid mentioning here as I had discussed him in an prospect comparison with Devin Mesoraco. However, after going 13 for 27 with five home runs in his last six games, D'Arnaud has pushed his way into the call up discussion, thus his appearance in this space.

Instead of rewording old material, I'm going to give you what I wrote in February, then provide an update and what the scouting reports say on D'Arnaud. Here's the block from my prospect comparison:

Travis D'Arnaud - C - Blue Jays- Scouts have loved D'Arnaud for years, though his production as recently as 2009-2010 didn't quite warrant it. Well, he proved them right in 2011, breaking out behind a .311/.371/.542 slash line and a stunning .231 ISO. He led the league in slugging percentage, and despite p


laying in a hitter friendly park, he actually slugged higher (.571) on the road. D'Arnaud uses a compact swing to spray the ball to all fields, allowing him to hit for average as well as power. He is able to hit for power due to his above-average batspeed and quick hands, though his power will likely top out between 20-25 home runs. Since being traded to Toronto as part of the Roy Halladay trade, D'Arnaud has seen his strikeout rate increase to 21.5% while never topping 16% in Philadelphia's system. This may seem alarming, but it's not an erosion of skills so much as a change in developmental philosophy between the two organizations, and one could hardly argue with the results after last year. He was also rated as the top defensive catcher by the managers in the best Eastern League despite only throwing out 27% of basestealers, highlighting that his production continues to lag behind his tools in some area. D'Arnaud displays a strong arm and good agility behind the plate, so his struggles are due more to maintaining consistent throwing mechanics - something that should come with time and repetition. D'Arnaud earned the Eastern League MVP while helping to deliver a championship for Double-A New Hampshire, leaving nothing for him to return to in Double-A. While he may not be ready for the majors just yet - and the Jays have a serviceable option in J.P. Arencibia at the moment - D'Arnaud should be ready to challenge for the starting job as soon as Spring Training 2013. The only thing that I could anticipate delaying his arrival is an injury, as he has been susceptible to them over his career, and underwent thumb surgery in October 2011 to mend a torn ligament he suffered at the Baseball World Cup.

Read more after the jump...

So now that you have a brief history on D'Arnaud, let's check in on what he's done so far this year. April brought a surprising slow start for D'Arnaud but he came on strong towards the end of the month finishing with a disappointing but still respectable .282/.354/.424 slash line. Those are certainly not awful rate stats, but when you play half your games in the launching pad that is Las Vegas, not to mention the positive hitting environments across the Pacific Coast League, one might expect more from a prospect of D'Arnaud's ilk. D'Arnaud would deliver on those expectations so far this month, slamming PCL pitching to the tune of a .354/.402/.747 slash line and bringing his full year line to .321/.379/.598 with 12 home runs and 15 doubles on the year. The good news doesn't stop there for D'Arnaud, as he has lowered his strikeout percentage an impressive 4.2% (21.5% to 17.2%) while elevating his walk percentage 1% (7.1% to 8.1%). That is an impressive feat, made more impressive by the fact that he has raised his ISO from .231 to .263, though that may be the increased power numbers are likely due in part to the great hitting environments he finds himself in. D'Arnaud will surely best his career high of 21 home runs that he set in 2011 if he remains in Triple-A for a full season, or at the rate his going, past July.

A contributor on both sides of the ball, D'Arnaud shows good athleticism behind the plate paired with above average arm strength. His athleticism and agility play well behind the dish, though his footwoork and accuracy are works in progress. At the plate, D'Arnaud features quick hands and a short stroke that allow him to spray the ball all over the field. It's his ability to avoid getting pull happy that allows him to hit for average in addition to his above-average present pop. He could probably hit 20 home runs over a full season in the majors right now, and is still growing into his power which could be plus down the line. With remarkable hand-eye coordination, D'Arnaud profiles as the rare catcher who could hit for average and add 25+ home runs; an all-star ceiling if I've ever seen one.

D'Arnaud is putting his tools on full display so far this year, and in another organization, he might be in the majors already. However, Toronto has a more than capable Arencibia in front of him, and while he may not have the ceiling of D'Arnaud, Arencibia has value as a power hitting catcher. Kevin Goldstein went through a scenario (subscription req) that could get D'Arnaud to the majors this year, and if he comes up, I think he could provide substantial value in deeper leagues because talent at the catcher position is fairly bereft, but I don't think he cracks the top ten of catchers in shallow leagues. In keeper leagues, he is a talent to target because he is as close to a lock as you can get to stay behind the plate for a good part of his career. D'Arnaud has an all-star ceiling and is an immediate target in keeper leagues when he becomes available. We've Devin Mesoraco struggle as a rookie, and I wouldn't say D'Arnaud is immune to those same issues, but his ceiling makes him worth an add.

Source Material:
Baseball America
Kevin Goldstein/Baseball Prospectus
Keith Law/ESPN