The Situation: Mets starting catcher John Buck is away from the team to welcome a baby boy into his family, and to replace him the club will turn to the top catching prospect in the system, calling up Travis d’Arnaud.
Background: Originally selected in the first round by the Phillies in 2007, d’Arnaud had already established himself as a top-flight catching prospect at the time he was dealt to Toronto as a piece in the Roy Halladay trade. After rising to Low-A as a 20-year old with the Phillies, d’Arnaud posted a .259/.315/.411 line in the High-A Florida State League in 2010 and then broke out with a massive .311/.371/.542 slash line for Double-A New Hampshire in 2011. Following that explosive season, d’Arnaud battled through injuries to hit .333 in just 67 games in the high-octane Pacific Coast League in 2012. Last winter, d’Arnaud was the centerpiece in a deal that sent knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays, and he has followed up that trade with a nifty .304/.487/.554 line across 19 Triple-A games after returning from injury.
Scouting Report: D’Arnaud is a complete catching prospect, and the only thing standing between him and several All-Star appearances is his ability to stay healthy and on the field. Offensively, d’Arnaud has plus bat speed and a knack for hard contact that should allow him to hit at least .280 in the big leagues once he settles in. He likes to swing the bat and will chase out of the strike zone at times, but he demonstrates just enough restraint for his natural hitting ability to shine through. When he makes contact, he consistently drives the ball to all fields and has the potential to pop 18-22 home runs and around 30 doubles at his peak.
D’Arnaud does a good job of receiving the baseball, handling velocity and secondary pitches with aplomb and demonstrating an ability to block pitches in the dirt. He isn’t fast, but his feet work quickly behind the plate, and he can get in position to unleash his plus arm with ease. D’Arnaud has consistently popped in the sub-2.0 second range, making him a threat to control the running game. Overall, d’Arnaud owns a robust skill set that will play on both sides of the ball. His ceiling stands squarely in the plus regular range and he could be a perennial All-Star when it all comes together.
Immediate Big-League Future: D’Arnaud is the Mets’ catcher of the future, and with the club heading nowhere fast this season, he could be in line to split time evenly with John Buck over the season’s final six weeks. With just 32 games under his belt this season as he comes back from knee surgery, he could be a little overwhelmed at the start. He has the natural ability to step in and perform this fall, but there are likely to be bumps in the road as he adjusts his approach to this new, challenging environment. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: There's always a lot of talk about how some pitchers with poor mechanics have "only so many bullets in their arm," leading to more aggressive promotions and usage. Sometimes it seems like that saying should apply in d'Arnaud's case as well; since being drafted in 2007, he's topped 75 games in a minor league season only twice (2009 and 2011). Of course, the analogy doesn’t quite hold up, as you can't just throw a catcher into the majors before he's actually ready and expect anything resembling success. In fact, even when catchers are deemed ready from a performance standpoint, the initial returns can be frustratingly small. For every Buster Posey, there are four Devin Mesoracos.
As the best fantasy catching prospect in the minor leagues, d'Arnaud's does have plenty of positives going for him. The biggest one in the short term is his approach at the plate, which has taken a big step forward in the limited time he's seen the field this season. In 131 plate appearances in 2013, he’s drawn 25 walks against 23 strikeouts after posting a strikeout-to-walk rate of over three-to-one in each of the last three seasons.
It may be only a few days before Buck returns from paternity leave, but barring an injury (which is always a possibility), d'Arnaud should be given his fair share of playing time down the stretch. And while that may not make him an immediate pickup in one-catcher mixed leagues, there will be plenty of formats where he's worth grabbing based on upside alone. If he can get in there for 100 at-bats the rest of the way, he's talented enough to hit .270 with five homers. And he should be an even stronger play in OBP leagues, as he has a .381 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.
In keeper/dynasty formats, d'Arnaud should be grabbed in any league regardless of size. Even with the depth of the catcher position, there's still a lack of higher-end talent, which he has the skills to provide. The potential for a .280 average with 25 homers is just too good to pass up when Jonathan Lucroy is essentially doing that right now and is the fourth-best fantasy catcher this season. In redraft leagues, d'Arnaud is best left for two-catcher and deep mixed formats at this point. And in NL-only leagues where he remains unowned, I'd be looking to throw around $5-7 in FAAB on him if it's a one-catcher format, and potentially more than twice that in a league where you start two backstops. —Bret Sayre