BLUF: More than enough defense to play every day behind the plate and the offense to hit in the middle of the lineup; potential All-Star.
The Player: Travis d’Arnaud (C, Toronto Blue Jays) – A first round pick by the Phillies in 2007, d’Arnaud joined the Blue Jays as part of the trade that sent Roy Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia following the 2009 season. Since joining the Blue Jays d’Arnaud has had one rocky and one spectacular season. His 2010 campaign was marred by back problems that limited him to just 71 games in the FSL where he finished with a line of .259/.315/.411; a significant departure from the impressive numbers he had posted earlier in his career. He returned to form in 2011 with a monster .311/.371/.542 line at Double-A including 33 doubles and 21 home runs in 114 games. His brother, Chase, made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2011.
Body: Strong, well-build kid. Durable frame that can handle the rigors of catching. Good athlete with room for additional strength down the line.
Makeup: Somewhat quiet. Keeps to himself at times but has come out of shell as he’s matured. Demonstrated improved command of the pitching staff in Double-A and showed a more extroverted leadership style from behind the plate as well. Hard worker that wants to improve all facets of his game.
Hit: Has quieted noisy setup from previous years and is now more controlled in the box prior to the pitch. Gets his hands in position early and is prepared to start his swing, allowing him to get the bat to the zone on time more frequently. Doesn’t have the bat feel to adjust mid-pitch but can make adjustments within an at-bat and game. Has improved pitch recognition and shows an increased willingness to wait for a pitch he can handle. Will work the other way on occasion. Solid overall hitter with room to grow. Grade – 30/50
Power: Upper body strength and increased use of his lower half by opening his hips more regularly allows for plus or better bat speed. Can barrel good fastballs and drive them to all parts of the park. Has added some loft to his swing in recent years and has at least above-average raw power. Grade (raw power) – 40/60
Arm: Ball doesn’t always come out clean and his footwork/release both get sloppy at times, causing his throws to sail. Raw arm strength ranges from average to plus on his throws and should approach that higher end consistently with more experience and refinement. Grade – 50/60
Fielding: Receiving and pitch handling improved dramatically in 2011 thanks in part to an increased focus on the intricacies of the position. Still struggles with better breaking balls, particularly in the dirt, but that should improve with experience. Overall blocking is solid. Game calling is still a work in progress. Grade – 40/50
Speed: Consistently below-average from home to first and doesn’t show anything better once up to speed. Likely will slow down as catching takes its toll. Grade – 30/20
Summation: Still needs polish with hitting approach and defensive responsibilities. If he maintains gains in hitting ability going forward he could be a solid hitter with averages in the .270-.280 range and that should allow his power to play in game situations. 20+ home runs and 25-30 doubles are realistic long term expectations. Intelligent player that maximizes raw tools and could be an All-Star level catcher with good offense and defense.
Relative Risk: High. Despite proximity to big leagues, injury risk still remains. Catchers with back injuries in their past can be a risky proposition and surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament last fall also elevates his risk. Combined with his relatively aggressive offensive approach and there is still some risk going forward.
Future: d’Arnaud needs the better part of a full season in Triple-A to continue polishing his game. With JP Arencibia already in Toronto there is no rush and he will have a chance to earn the job in 2013. D’Arnaud is the best true catching prospect in the game today and he has a chance to be an All-Star backstop that hits in the middle of the lineup.