Tuesday, March 11, 2014

N.Y. Mets: Travis d'Arnaud's Long Awaited Rookie Season Draws Closer

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS: Coach Terry's Catchers Are No Spring Chickens, Yet Lack MLB Experience.

Fair or Not, The Pressure Is On Travis d'Arnaud,
Who Is The Primary, And Only Plan Behind The Plate.

Somewhere in the club offices, if you're thinking like a GM, you should feel that you lack a back-up plan on the chance that Travis d'Arnaud either incurs another injury, or struggles mightily at the plate and becomes a liability.  Sandy Alderson never did secure an MLB grade catcher to back-up Travis d'Arnaud, like the GM said he wanted to back in October.  Therefore, the Mets will most likely enter the regular season with Anthony Recker as the back-up again, which is fine by me.  Maybe however, acquiring an experienced catcher is still not out of the question.  By the end of spring training, perhaps a catcher will become available.

Anthony Recker's 38 starts last season were by far his largest single body of work.  Prior to last year, his previous high was 49 at-bats during the 2012 season.  Although he only batted .215 with a .280 OBP in 135 at-bats last year, Anthony still clubbed 6 home runs and 7 doubles, and drove in 19 runs.  So, even though he'll be turning 32-years old, and has just 77 games of MLB experience, I think there was something more to his .400 slugging average last season than meets the eye.

Recker was buried in Oakland's system for many years, and perhaps all he needs is a chance to spread his arms, so to say.  That said, after having gained a greater measure of confidence last year, and even perhaps having learned a thing or two from playing with John Buck, I'm looking forward to an improved season from him.  I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, and suspect Anthony will be a competent back-up catcher this season.

Of course, the Mets primary backstop is now Travis d'Arnaud.  He is no spring chicken, but at age 25, he will still officially qualify as a rookie this season.  Over the last two years, injuries have twice derailed and/or delayed his MLB debut.  During his call-up last season, he did not exceed the minimum requirement of at-bats, and retained his rookie status.

Many are stopping just short of labeling him as injury prone.  The Mets certainly hope that's not the case. But, we all saw first hand last season, how foul tips, errant pitches, and back swings routinely find their way to d'Arnaud's unprotected areas.  Things of that nature chip away at all catchers though, but at first glance, perhaps d'Arnaud more than others.  Otherwise, his major injuries occurred in the field of play, and not necessarily because he is fragile.  Travis injured a knee as a base runner during a play at second base, and fractured his foot thanks to a foul ball while crouched behind the plate.

He is certainly not without his flaws behind the plate, but let's keep this real.  Travis was brought in to be an offensive catcher.  The type of production he displayed in 2011 with New Hampshire of the Eastern League, and his 2012 production with Las Vegas are what people want from him.  In 424 at-bats playing AA in 2011, he batted .311 and posted a .371 OBP.  He hit 33 doubles, 21 home runs, and had a .542 slugging average. Prior to suffering a knee injury in 2012, while playing in AAA, he batted .333 in 279 at-bats, with a .380 OBP, and .595 slugging mark.  He hit 21 doubles, 16 home runs, and drove in 52 runs.

It is rather unrealistic to expect that type of production from d'Arnaud so soon.  Should he ever achieve those numbers, is another matter.  But perhaps because he was brought here in exchange for a former Cy Young award winner, he might be expected to at least show that he belongs.  He managed 20 hits in 99 at-bats last season.  However, it is unfair to hold anything about last year against him.  The rookie deserves a clean slate.  That said, I hope he develops into a very popular Mets player for years to come.

Make no mistake though, Travis d'Arnaud is one of the new, young Mets being depended upon to help turn things around in Flushing.  Travis was the main player in the R.A. Dickey trade, not Noah Syndergaard.  So, in some form or fashion, the New York pressure will still bear down on the new Mets catcher.

There is also no escaping the fact that between them, d'Arnaud and Recker total 108 games of MLB experience.  But, as noted previously, each is of a fairly mature age.  That can only help, because they are both being charged with corralling the Mets stable of current, and upcoming pitchers.  With so much of the Mets potential future success riding on the health and strength of their young pitching, having a solid battery mate is paramount.

During his small body of work last season, pitchers expressed their pleasure with d'Arnaud's receiving abilities behind the plate.  Zack Wheeler in particular, had good things to say on his behalf.  We also quickly learned that he frames pitches very well.

As David Wright will be the most experienced player in the infield, he in fact becomes a pitching coach on the field, that is, until Travis d'Arnaud is comfortably settled in his MLB role.  Sometimes, those meetings on the mound yield something inspiring.  Ultimately, things of that nature must come from the catcher.

Otherwise, this is a rather unique situation which Mets fans should enjoy - watching a promising young battery grow into their own together.


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