Any young catcher of quality is a hot commodity in the major leagues, and the Mets seemingly have two – just as the Toronto Blue Jays once thought they had.
Toronto’s recent fumble behind the plate shows why the Mets should resist trading prospect Kevin Plawecki any time soon.
The Blue Jays made J.P. Arencibia the 21st overall pick of the 2007 amateur draft. He ended the year as the 7th ranked prospect of the New York-Penn League, and fourth best within Toronto’s organization.
He finished the 2008 season ranked #43 by Baseball America, elevated himself to #2 within the organization and stayed there through 2009.
Arencibia finished the 2010 season ranked the 8th best player of the Pacific Coast League, and was additionally rated the circuit’s top power prospect. However, his standing on Toronto’s prospects list slipped to 8th best.
Enter the new kid in town, another catcher acquired from Philadelphia named Travis d’Arnaud, whom immediately finished the 2010 season as Toronto’s 5th best prospect.
By 2011, d’Arnaud claimed the top spot on the Blue Jays’ prospects list, and was ranked #17 by Baseball America.
D’Arnaud remained the Blue Jays #1 prospect through the 2012 season, and was ranked #2 in the Pacific Coast League, and #23 overall by Baseball America.
That December, Sandy Alderson went knocking on (Toronto general manager) Alex Anthopoulos’ door seeking one of his two highly touted young catchers.
Despite Toronto’s initial high regard for d’Arnaud, it can be argued a pair of injuries swayed their decision to part with him. In truth, the Blue Jays were much higher on J.P. Arencibia‘s power and overall future behind the plate, and thus more reluctant to trade him.
In hindsight, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Although Arecibia twice topped 20 home runs for the Blue Jays, he finished 2014 batting only .194 in 474 at-bats and additionally became a major liability behind the plate. A year after trading d’Arnaud to the Mets, Toronto failed to trade away Arencibia and ultimately let him walk away as a free agent in December of 2013.
The Mets are now experiencing a similar scenario where Travis d’Arnaud has a year of major league experience and has a second fast-developing prospect right behind him awaiting his own MLB debut. However, unlike Toronto, the Mets are in no position to make the same kinds of evaluative mistakes, nor can they afford such a pricey corrective expenditure.
If a team came along with an enticing bid for either Mets catcher, they’d be fools not to listen; that’s just good business. Regardless of either scenario, it is paramount the Mets get it right. That being said, the rule of thumb for any construction project is measure twice, cut once. Rebuilding baseball clubs are no different in that respect.
Travis d’Arnaud was brought to Mets as part of their rebuild. His 2014 rookie season was a mixed bag of goods. He batted below the Mendoza Line (.196) through his first 31 games of the season, which earned him a two-week demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. After d’Arnaud’s return to the majors on May 28th, he went on to hit 10 of his 13 home runs and raised his average by 46 points. In 53 games after the All-Star break he slashed .265/.313/.474 with 7 home runs and 22 RBI.
Defensively, d’Arnaud led the National League with 12 passed balls, while his 19% caught stealing rate lagged behind the league’s 28% average.
The position is nevertheless Travis d’Arnaud’s to lose.
He underwent successful surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow last October, and recently celebrated his 26th birthday shortly before reporting in for Pitchers and Catchers.
Before long, however, Kevin Plawecki may turn catcher into a wide open competition.
Plawecki was selected by the Mets in the first round (35th overall) of the 2012 amateur draft. Starting in Brooklyn, Plawecki tore through four levels of the Mets system before arriving in Las Vegas midway through last season.
Plawecki began 2014 at Binghamton, where in 58 games and 249 plate appearances he slashed .326/.378/.487 with 6 home runs and 43 RBI. He was then promoted to Las Vegas where in 43 games and 170 plate appearances he slashed .283/.345/.421 with 5 home runs and 21 RBI. In 101 combined games and 419 total plate appearances, Plawecki slashed .309/.365/.460 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI.
Defensively, Plawecki handled 842 total chances and committed 6 errors (5 passed balls) for a .993 FA. At Binghamton, he threw out 31% of would be base-stealers, but only managed to throw out 10% at Las Vegas.
Sandy Alderson rightly prefaced the 2015 season by stating Kevin Plawecki needs more playing time at Las Vegas, and added that making occasional starts at first base is a non-issue. Alderson also said Plawecki would get the first call in case of an injury to d’Arnaud.
It’s seems up to Travis d’Arnaud, then, to seize the moment while continuing to build on his strong finish to 2014. If d’Arnaud doesn’t rise to the occasion, Kevin Plawecki will likely get an opportunity to show what he can do.