Travis D'Arnaud turns 21 years old today. He was drafted out of high school in the first round, 37th overall, of the 2007 amateur entry draft by the Phillies. He received an $832,500 signing bonus which was enough for him to break his commitment to play college ball at Pepperdine with his brother Chase. Your Toronto Blue Jays selected 38th overall that year and it was no secret the team coveted D'Arnaud. We ended up taking LHP Brett Cecil and no one can be really disappointed with that. He made 17 starts for us in 2009 winning 7 games. His numbers were not great but he got his first taste of the show and should benefit from the experience moving forward.
Back to D'Arnaud. He stands 6'2 and weights in at 195lbs. By all reports he is an above average defensive catcher. His throwing arm is strong and accurate. He has quick feet. Words like athletic and agile are used to describe his movements behind the plate. Scouts praise his game management skills and his "feel" for the position. Things like calling games, setting up the hitters and working together with the pitchers are tremendously underrated abilities when discussing catchers. To the casual observer these integral parts of the game of baseball go unnoticed. Most people can not comprehend the amount of trust a catcher must build up over time with every member of the pitching staff.
You see I use to catch when I played hardball. In fact, I played against The Human Rain Delay growing up and he too was a catcher. Being from Georgetown, I played on more than my fair share of absolutely horrible baseball teams and consequently I spent A LOT of time in the crouch receiving pitches. Back then Georgetown was a small town with not much more than 25,000 people living there and our team played in the same league as some heavyweights. Currently LastRow500's still catches every week with his hardball team.
Over time, I began to view the game of baseball differently because of my time behind the plate. Catcher is the only position on the field that is physically facing all the others and we see everything. Every detail. This is particularly evident when a runner with above average speed gets on base. Gifted catchers have the ability to neutralize the running game. Pitchers obviously play a big role in this as well. If a pitcher is able to shorten his leg kick and vary his tempo on the mound then this gives the catcher a better opportunity to succeed. They really are a team within a team. Together they are called the battery.
But make no mistake the catcher is the on field general. You can control the flow of the game. You set up all the outfield cut offs, position the defense based on how you are going to pitch to a hitter, relay all the messages from the coaches in the dug out and communicate with the pitcher on what to throw and where. You must know the other teams hitters and their strengths. You must know what they are trying to accomplish every at bat and do everything you can to prevent them from executing. You have to know what your pitcher is and isn't capable of doing. What pitches he feels comfortable throwing in which situations. You also have to remember how you got every hitter out previously and try not to fall into patterns. Teams pick up on pitchers tendencies very quickly and make adjustments. You have to counter those adjustments but only after they catch on to what you are trying to do. This is the element of the game that I truly love. It is similar to a game of chess where every action has a reaction.
But there is so much more to the position. Take blocking balls for example. When I go to games at the Dome I stand up and cheer when a catcher makes a big block at a crucial time. Most people look at me like I'm crazy. They have no idea. Keeping the double play in order is invaluable at any level of ball but it is especially important in the big leagues. Some pitches when thrown effectively MUST end up in the dirt. Any kind of splitter or sinkerball has to start in the bottom half of the strikezone and finish out of it to be effective. Curveballs and sliders both have a downward tilt on them and the good ones finish low. Even changeups have to be kept down to a certain degree, especially palmballs. What most people tend to overlook is the fact that the pitcher has to trust the catcher entirely in order to do this with runners on base. They both have to be fearless and be completely in sync. This certainly doesn't happen overnight.
If D'Arnaud is as good as he is being billed then I am VERY excited to see this kid play. It is easy to pick out a great defensive catcher from the rest when you finally do see one. After some reflection former Rookie of the Year, 7 time All Star and 3 time Gold Glover Benito Santiago is the last guy to wear our uniform that I can recall. He only started 99 games behind the plate for us in the late 90's. Those who saw him should recognize he played the position on a different level.
I haven't even mentioned his hitting yet. It's not quite as impressive but he was drafted as an 18 year old high schooler and would just now be entering his senior year of college had he gone. It is a bit early, but let's compare his numbers to the other guys we have in the system. Keep in mind the highest level he has played in the minors is A ball. It will be interesting to see where if he starts the 2010 season. If it's not in AA you have to figure he will be promoted to that level at some point.
|Player Name||Stat Type||Bavg||Obp||Slg||OPS||G||AB||R||H||2B||3B||HR||RBI||SB||CS||BB||SO||HR||2B||R||RBI||SB|
For a yearly breakdown of his stats, click here and you can find his splits here.
I punched his 2009 season into the Minor League Equivalency calculator. This is a fun tool to play around with. You enter a player's minor league stats, select his current league and team, and it will spit out equivalent stats at the major league level. The results indicate he needs to spend some more time developing.
In 505 major league at bats he would have hit .177 with a .218 on base percentage, 7 bombs, 45 RBI, 23 doubles and 5 steals. There is really no way to tell how accurate that is and it assumes he played 2009 in the majors instead of A ball so take it for what it's worth.
I have heard him described in the media as the third guy or the catcher in the Halladay trade. D'Arnaud is unquestionably the furthest prospect away from reaching the majors that we received in return for our ace. But if he plays batcatcher the way it is supposed to be played, then I will no problem waiting patiently for him to develop. And whatever he ends up doing with the stick in his hand is gravy.
Our boy Jay Ballz has done a couple of interviews with Travis. You can find them here and here.
Jay was also able to catch up with Travis's brother Chase - who currently plays in AA - and spoke with him about the sibling rivalry.