Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t been able to find the spotlight. Not yet, anyway.
After the 2009 season, d’Arnaud ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Phillies system, behind the high-ceiling troika of Domonic Brown, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. When the Phillies traded the 21-year-old d’Arnaud to the Blue Jays this offseason, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were the big league aces getting most of the ink, while the focus on the prospect side of the deal was on Drabek and Taylor.
Even among catching prospects, d’Arnaud has had trouble distinguishing himself in a time when Carlos Santana, Buster Posey and Jesus Montero are among the top 10 prospects in the game.
Heck, even in his own family, Travis has had to share the spotlight with older brother Chase, a quality middle infield prospect with the Pirates.
Regardless of how many people are noticing, what d’Arnaud is doing in the high Class A Florida State League with Dunedin is hard to ignore.
D’Arnaud’s plus bat speed helps him hit for power, while his low-maintenance swing allows him to stay short to the ball, so the power doesn’t come at the expense of making contact. That skill set has shown up in d’Arnaud’s early numbers. After going 2-for-4 with a walk yesterday, d’Arnaud is hitting .396/.431/.660 in 63 plate appearances with just five strikeouts.
“There’s not a whole lot going on (with his swing),” Dunedin manager Clayton McCullough said. “It’s pretty simple and compact. When he walks up to the plate, he's got a plan in mind, how he thinks the pitchers are going to attack him. He trusts it and he sticks to it.”
What stands out to McCullough about d’Arnaud is his confidence in his ability to hit, an attitude that’s certainly merited.
“He just has a real calmness about him when he's in the batter's box, a real easiness to his approach,” McCullough said. “When he gets a good pitch to hit, he’s got the ability to do some damage to all fields.”
D’Arnaud isn’t just a one-dimensional prospect. He has an above-average arm and he’s done a solid job blocking balls this year thanks in part to his athleticism.
“I think the big thing is that he really likes to catch,” McCullough said. “Some guys that have that kind of offensive potential, the defense goes on the backburner. But Travis likes to catch, he likes working with pitchers and he’s been good thus far.”
Blue Jays righthander Henderson Alvarez threw his fastball anywhere from 86-92 mph last year in the Midwest League, finishing the season with a 3.47 ERA in 23 starts for low Class A Lansing thanks largely to his advanced control and an above-average changeup.
This year Alvarez, who turned 20 on Sunday, is throwing in the low-90s and has touched 96 mph, according to McCullough. Through two starts with Dunedin, Alvarez has allowed one run in 14 innings for a 0.64 ERA, with two walks and seven hits allowed. The extra velocity hasn’t led to more strikeouts (six), but he’s pounded the strike zone and kept the ball down, leading to three groundouts for every fly out early in the season.
“His work on his days when he's not pitching are getting better,” McCullough said. “He’s understanding the importance of conditioning between starts to help him build arm strength and to maintain it. It’s just a young kid whose body is maturing.”
McCullough said Alvarez, who is 6 feet, 190 pounds, has made strides with his offspeed stuff as well. He’s added a greater speed differential between his changeup and his fastball by tweaking the grip on his changeup, and shown more confidence in his breaking ball.
“Last year his breaking ball was just a work in progress,” McCullough said. “He sees the value of it, the importance of getting that third pitch to be a starter up the ladder. Having a viable breaking ball is something he’s going to need, and it’s nice to see him trusting it in his outings much more this year. This year’s he’s throwing his breaking ball in situations he never would have last year."
Tigers righthander Jacob Turner missed his scheduled start on Tuesday due to some stiffness in his forearm. Low Class A West Michigan pitching coach Mark Johnson said Turner will get a few extra days rest and return to the rotation when he's ready.
A tender forearm has been the only thing able to do any damage this year against Turner, the Tigers' first-round pick in '09. Through two starts, Turner has surrendered only one run for a 1.00 ERA in nine innings with 11 strikeouts.
"He's a guy who's got a plus arm, his curveball can be above average at times and his changeup is coming along nicely," Johnson said. "His stuff is just going to get better as he matures and understands how he needs to do the things he needs to do to move up in this game."
Aside from his electric arm, Turner's control has been just as impressive, as he's yet to issue a walk.
"He's repeating his delivery nicely, which makes him consistent at the strike zone," Johnson said. "He made good adjustments when he needed to get back in the zone and make hitters put it in play."
• Turner isn't the only 2009 first-round prep pick having a monster debut in the Midwest League. Cardinals righthander Shelby Miller struck out seven in four innings yesterday in his third start for Quad Cities, giving him 21 strikeouts in 11 innings. The Cardinals' top prospect has a heavy low-90s fastball, which is one reason why he has 10 groundouts and only one fly out this year.
• Welcome back, Desmond Jennings. The Rays' top prospect wasn't expected to be back from a wrist injury until May, but Jennings returned to Triple-A Durham on Sunday and is off to a 4-for-14 start with a double, three walks and three steals in as many attempts.
• Think Mike Trout has some speed? The Angels' low Class A Cedar Rapids center fielder led off Tuesday's game with an infield single, stole second base, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, then stole home. Trout, 18, padded his stats yesterday with two more hits and another steal (his seventh in eight attempts), bringing the 2009 first-rounder's numbers up to .375/.455/.464 in 14 games. Not bad for a teenager in the Midwest League.
• Lars Anderson is finding his second tour of the Eastern League to be a much more pleasant experience than his first. Anderson struggled in seemingly every offensive category last year with Double-A Portland, but the Red Sox first baseman is showing signs of life again. Anderson, 22, is hitting .295/.360/.591 with three homers in 12 games. It's early, but it's a promising sign for Anderson and the Red Sox, particularly if David Ortiz's contact issues in Boston continue.
• Low Class A Rome righthander Arodys Vizcaino (Braves) got off to a shaky start with his new organization, but he showed last night why his low-90s fastball and hammer curve make him one of the game's best pitching prospects. Vizcaino limited Kannapolis to one run in seven innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
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