Travis d’Arnaud was drafted by the Phillies as an 18-year-old out of high school with the 37th-overall pick in the 2007 draft. He quickly earned himself top-prospect status, a title he kept for four years in the minors. The young catcher was valued highly enough to find himself as a part of two blockbusters before reaching the majors. In the first, Philadelphia sent him to Toronto for Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays then turned around and sent him to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal in 2012. He would make his major-league debut in the following season, playing 31 games down the stretch in 2013. Last season, d’Arnaud’s first full season as a major-league player, presented a player with promise but the inconsistencies you would expect from a young catcher adjusting to life as a major leaguer, ending up just outside of the top-20 fantasy catchers per ESPN’s Player Rater. Heading into the 2015 season, he was being selected as the 13th catcher in drafts.
What Went Right in 2015
When he was able to play, d’Arnaud was one of the better fantasy backstops in the game. He actually finished three spots higher on the ESPN player rater compared to 2014 despite playing in 41 fewer games. The biggest reason for this was a big uptick in the power department. His 12 home runs in 2015 was just one fewer than he hit a year ago, and ranked 13th among catchers this season. Overall, he finished the year with an impressive .218 ISO, tied for the 34th best mark among all players with at least 250 plate appearances. How d’Arnaud achieved this is particularly interesting, as he wasn’t hitting the ball any farther than he had a year ago. Instead, he cut his groundball rate by six percentage points. Some of his home run total was due to good HR/FB% luck—he increased his rate while watching his average flyball distance fall slightly from 2014—but giving himself more opportunities was equally important. In addition to the power increase, d’Arnaud also started walking more, and his .340 OBP made him much more valuable in OBP leagues than standard formats.
What Went Wrong in 2015
First and foremost, injuries derailed his season. If he had been able to get a normal workload, d’Arnaud would have easily been a top-10 catcher this season. However, he was off the field more often than not, playing in just 67 games. The good news is his injuries were more of the fluky variety, with one coming as a result of being hit in the hand by a pitch and the other coming in a collision at the plate. However, as fluky as those injuries may be, he’s had a history of missing games because of these kinds of plays, and he’s at a position where these plays are much more common. It’s not enough to write him off over, but it’s a concern moving forward.
Beyond the injuries, his plate discipline numbers took a step back despite all of the other strides he made offensively. d’Arnaud’s 24 percent swinging-strike rate was the highest of his young career and a big increase over his 19 percent mark in 2014. Most of that came from chasing pitches out of the zone, particularly breaking balls. It’s hard to argue with the results, but he’ll need to make some adjustments in his swing if he wants to take another step forward in 2016.
What to Expect in 2016
For all of the negatives outlined in the previous section, it’s hard to bet against a catcher entering his age-27 season who was as highly touted as d’Arnaud coming up. The power certainly appears to be real, and it’s hard to find anything close to that behind the plate. He’ll likely be somewhere in the 7-12 range among catchers in next year’s drafts, and if he’s towards the bottom of that range he could very well be a steal. Catchers are notoriously slow developers, and this is typically the time when they start to breakout. The plate-discipline and injury concerns make him far from a sure thing, but as a later-round or low-money option, he can pay huge dividends by the end of the year.
The Great Beyond
At a position without a ton of young talent right now, d’Arnaud is one of the more intriguing catching options in long-term leagues. While he’s clearly not on the same level, he will cost considerably less than someone like Kyle Schwarber and is a much stronger bet to stay at the position in the long term. Considering his potential to breakout in 2016, this would be the offseason to try and make a move for him. Although he’s still a risk at this point, there aren’t many sure things at this position, and he has more upside than just about anyone else behind the plate.
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