Jays’ d’Arnaud Has Work to Do Behind (Not So Much, At) The Plate
Do you want the good news first, or the bad?
The good news: Travis d’Arnaud hit for .333 in 2012.
The bad news: Travis d’Arnaud threw for .300 in 2012.
Let me explain.
The Toronto Blue Jays office is in a frenzy this week. The instructional league is ending, and logistical stuff is getting done. It’s busy. But one baseball ops staffer took some time with me over the phone this afternoon, and I came away with a couple conclusions about d’Arnaud, the organization’s top-ranked prospect and presumptive catcher of the future.
The first conclusion: d’Arnaud, whom the Jays acquired from the Phils way back in 2009, is one heck of an offensive threat. Even more of a threat at age 23 and in his first Triple-A season than Toronto’s brass could hope for. The righty swinger not only recorded a hit once every three ABs — he also racked up 16 homers and 21 doubles before his season ended prematurely because of a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. (The injury was supposed to cost him eight weeks of action, but he missed the entire second half of the season. I’m told that he is now 100 percent healthy, so don’t read too much into his absence from the Arizona Fall League).
The second conclusion: d’Arnaud, while adept at the plate, is far from a finished product behind it. The front office member I spoke with said d’Arnaud needed to and would, with experience, improve his 1) game-calling, 2) leadership (“taking charge” of a rotation), and 3) throwing consistency.
1) and 2) are hard for me to quantify because I’m not a scout with inside access to the clubhouse in Triple-A Las Vegas, where d’Arnaud spent last season (or the newly-affiliated Triple-A Buffalo, where he will, barring an injury or trade involving incumbent J.P. Arencibia, begin next season.)
3), however, I can at least scratch the surface on. Past scouting reports indicate the backtop’s strength and athleticism. And stats can point to whether he is turning his natural gifts (tools) into measured production (skills). Here are some of those numbers from ’12:
55 games at catcher
.991 fielding percentage
6 passed balls
40 stolen-base attempts against him
28 successful stolen-base attempts
12 failed stolen-base attempts
.300 caught-stealing percentage
There’s that .300 number again. They say that baseball is a game in which you can fail seven times out of 10 and still be considered successful. This refers to hitting, however, not limiting the oppositions running game. So let’s put it this way:
.700 success rate for opposing would-be base stealers
That’s high. For a comparison: High Desert’s John Hicks registered the lowest such rate (.462) among full-season-affiliated catchers who were tested by 40 or more attempts. And three others, Northwest Arkansas’ Manny Pina and Quad Cities’ Casey Rasmus as well as Winston-Salem’s Miguel Gonzalez, recorded sub.-500 rates.
But those guys are the cream of the crop. Allow PROSPECTive to add greater PERspective: Of only Pacific Coast Leaguer catch-and-throwers, a group that includes d’Arnaud, 10 finished this past season with more success nabbing thiefs.
- Anthony Recker — Sacramento — 44 ATT — .523
- Carlos Corporan — Oklahoma City — 63 ATT — .556
- Ryan Budde — Reno — 40 ATT — .575
- Tim Federowicz — Albuquerque — 84 ATT — .607
- Landon Powell — Oklahoma City — 74 ATT — .608
- Cody Clark — Omaha — 54 ATT — .611
- Eli Whiteside — Fresno — 69 ATT — .638
- Dusty Brown — Round Rock — 53 ATT — .642
- Martin Maldonado — Nashville — 40 ATT — .675
- Derek Norris — Sacramento — 57 ATT — .684
- Travis d’Arnaud — Las Vegas — 40 ATT — .700
So what does all this tell us? d’Arnaud was the 11th-hardest catcher to steal from in a 16-team league because of one, or more likely, a combination of factors: His arm is strong but inaccurate, his instincts are off, his pitchers were slow to home plate, he wasn’t “handling” his pitchers.
So the take-away here is not earth-shattering: Like most young catchers (and it should be pointed out that most of the above 10 are not young), d’Arnaud’s bat is well ahead of his glove. Will it catch up? I can only tell you that it likely will. The stats — and intercountry phone conversations — only tell us so much.