When the Mets first traded R.A. Dickey for a platinum package from Toronto, it was not Noah Syndergaard but Travis d’Arnaud who was considered the crown jewel of the deal. D’Arnaud’s leg injury last April quickly brought tarnish to his acclaim, and when he recovered and made it to the big leagues in mid-August, the results were mixed. While d’Arnaud’s numbers at the plate were far from impressive, scouts still see great offensive potential for Travis. He has also shown impressive abilities behind the plate, surely to the delight of some veteran Met pitchers who spent the previous few years tossing to Josh Thole. He is considered a key to New York’s success in 2014, perhaps one of six Mets who could hit 20 home runs this year, considered by some to be the next incarnation of Mike Piazza.
As it stands, only two things could keep Travis d’Arnaud from becoming the next great New York backstop. One is his injury potential, which may have stunted his growth and could continue to be a problem through the years. The other is top catching prospect Kevin Plawecki, who has already made the front office consider trading d’Arnaud.
Kevin Plawecki played his high school ball in suburban Indianapolis and was a three-year starter at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN (your author’s hometown, thank you very much). While seen as an early- but not first-round prospect, Sandy Alderson selected Plawecki in the first supplemental round of the 2012 draft. In his first full minor league season, Plawecki hit .305 with 80 RBIs between Savannah and St. Lucie, sharing honors with Allan Dykstra as Organizational Player of the Year for 2013. He drew his fair share of walks (.390 OBP, .838 OPS) and struck out surprisingly little (53 Ks in 449 at-bats).
Two marks against Plawecki compared to d’Arnaud are his lack of power to date (eight home runs in 2013) and below-average arm strength (d’Arnaud’s is considered slightly above average). However, d’Arnaud wasn’t much of a power threat during his early days. Travis only started hitting home runs in 2009, his second full minor-league season, and Plawecki will enter his second season in 2014 with Double-A Binghamton. In addition, while his arm strength isn’t up to par, Plawecki can make up for it with his impressive game-calling abilities, the same way Piazza did.
If he holds up, Kevin Plawecki is destined to join a list of Boilermaker big-leaguers which, while short, includes former Yankee great Moose Skowron and longtime Pirate starter Bob Friend (one of two Mets to beat Sandy Koufax and the namesake of your author’s high school ball field). The only question that remains is whether he’ll make it as a New York Met or in another uniform.
It all depends on how Travis d’Arnaud progresses over the next few seasons. Indeed, Plawecki’s development may bring pressure that, along with being an upcoming sports talent in the Greatest City in the World, d’Arnaud is not equipped to handle. Travis may not have expected this kind of job competition when he came to Queens, but now it is on him to keep it.
On the other hand, the added motivation may be just the thing that pushes d’Arnaud over the hump. Consider the case of Ruben Tejada: by the end of 2012 he was tapped to be the Mets’ shortstop of the future. At this point, with no strong shortstops in the New York farm system, Tejada rested on his laurels, regressed in 2013, and lost his job to an aging Omar Quintanilla. Now, Ruben will only get his job back in 2014 if Sandy Alderson decides the price for Stephen Drew is too high. Even then, Tejada’s future is still in doubt, as the shortstop market next offseason looks promising.
Ruben Tejada failed to stay motivated because he saw no competition waiting in the wings. Travis d’Arnaud, meanwhile, has serious competition. Whereas Tejada failed to stay motivated, d’Arnaud may see Plawecki in his rearview mirror and keep pushing to improve.
In all likelihood, Travis d’Arnaud will be the catcher of the future for the New York Mets. Kevin Plawecki is next in line, but his value right now comes from his impact on d’Arnaud. Whatever the outcome of this catching competition, though, the Mets’ future behind the plate is in good hands.