Do not write off Travis d’Arnaud quite yet. The New York Mets’ catcher of the future seems to have regained his stroke in the minors. In eight games at Triple-A Las Vegas, d’Arnaud is batting .394 with five home runs, two doubles, and three walks. He has only struck out twice in 37 plate appearances. While d’Arnaud has struggled mightily on the major league level, his hot hitting is a good sign for worried fans, but not necessarily a sure sign of future success in the big leagues. What is more important is that the power stroke indicates successful adjustments made to d’Arnaud’s swing.
What d’Arnaud is doing in the minor leagues is not new for him. For his Triple-A career, the main piece acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade has batted for an OPS well over 1.000, with 23 home runs in only 418 plate appearances. However, for context on these statistics, it should be noted that the Pacific Coast League, and Las Vegas in particular, is basically a dream environment for hitters. Imagine a league-wide Coors Field affect, and what d’Arnaud has done there should be tempered a bit. However, that is not the key to d’Arnaud’s time in Triple-A.
Gaudy stats are nice, but what will likely be of much greater interest to the Mets is how d’Arnaud adjusts his approach in the minors. With the pressure of the big leagues removed, he will have more of a chance to make changes that he needs to be successful, be them mechanical or mental. Mets’ manager Terry Collins stated that there were definite swing issues d’Arnaud had to take care of. The lack of line drives hit by d’Arnaud back up Collins point, while his decent strikeout and walk rates hint that his batting eye and approach seem to be fine.
So far, d’Arnaud looks like he has created a slightly more compact swing, with his hands just a bit closer to his body, allowing him to get the bat around quicker. As his five homers show, his bat speed, at least in comparison to Triple-A pitching, appears to be strong. If d’Arnaud can return to the big leagues with confidence, a clear head, and adjustments to his swing already made, he can get back to the demanding day-to-day duties a catcher has to endure with his pitching staff. The life of a catcher is not an easy one, and leaves little room for offensive work outside of batting practice and games.
Expecting such a young player to come back to the big leagues and carry over his current minor league batting line is an unfathomable expectation. When he returns, if he can at least show himself a capable hitter the Mets are sure to be thrilled. The major league average for catchers is only a .250 batting average and a .702 OPS, so the offensive bar is not set sky high. Add in the fact that d’Arnaud has been a capable defender at a tough position, and one can figure he will still be able to turn things around and provide value to the team.
To avoid using up an option, the Mets can recall d’Arnaud before he spends 20 days in the minors. That would mean d’Arnaud should probably be expected back in the next two weeks, unless Collins or General Manager Sandy Alderson think differently. However, the offensive outburst d’Arnaud has had should ensure that he will be back to regular catching duties upon his return sooner than later.
Commentary by Brian Moore