Travis D'Arnaud Rumors
Catching depth throughout baseball is thin. When I rolled out my Top 100 Prospects list at FanGraphs in March, I had only four catchers included in that ranking: Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets, Mike Zunino of the Mariners, Austin Hedges of the Padres, and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. Baseball America's list featured the same four backstops. Baseball Prospectus also had that same quartet, followed by two more names in Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers and Christian Bethancourt of the Braves.
As witnessed by the lists, it's an accomplishment for any organization to have one good catching prospect in a minor league system, let alone two. The New York Yankees organization is enviable in that regard. Sanchez, 20, has been a mainstay on the top prospects lists since he signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He showed up as high as 42nd overall on the three lists mentioned above, and no lower than 57th. The offensive-minded catcher has impressive offensive skills, including plus raw power. His ascent through the Yankees system can be best described as slow and steady.
Signed the same year as Sanchez, J.R. Murphy was selected out of the high school ranks in the second round of the amateur draft and he's just beginning to receive the attention he deserves. A front office contact who is familiar with the catching prospect told MLBTR that Murphy "was signed as a player [people] thought would hit and might be able to catch."
The 22-year-old prospect has flashed offensive potential in the past with good control of the strike zone, gap power and the ability to hit for a respectable average -- but inconsistency has been his downfall at the plate. So far this year, the Florida native is hitting .308 with 12 extra base hits, as well as 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 28 games.
During the early stages of his pro career, Murphy struggled with receiving the ball and throwing out runners, while also dabbling with the idea of playing third base. He turned the corner in his development behind the plate in 2012 with his success rate at gunning down base runners jumping to more than 30 percent for the first time. So far in 2013, he's just shy of throwing out 50 percent of baserunners while playing at Double-A, one step ahead of his fellow catching prospect.
The talent evaluator who spoke with MLBTR said the Yankees organization thinks very highly of Murphy. "Due to his diligence, ability and the focused hard work of our coaches, he has become a defensive plus. He is on track to become a quality major league catcher," he said. "He receives the ball well and is an above-average thrower. He has the intelligence and game awareness to manage a game at the major league level."
Currently in his fifth pro season, Murphy will need to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to be protected from the annual Rule 5 draft. If added, he'll be granted three option years that will allow him to be shuttled between the majors and the minors during that time frame.
The 10th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, Jason Castro's career development has been slowed by trips to the disabled list. In fact, he lost the entire 2011 season to a serious knee injury. Perhaps hampered by the lost playing time, the Astros' starting catcher's offense has not developed as hoped. Still just 25, the Stanford alum has time to jump-start his bat, but Houston has accumulated some solid catching depth in the past year.
Acquired last year from Toronto in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and two other pitchers to Toronto, catching prospect Carlos Perez has enjoyed the change of scenery. After spending five years in Rookie ball and Low-A ball with the conservative Blue Jays player development program, the Astros loosened the reins on the young player and he responded favorably. In less than a year, the 22-year-old Venezuela native reached Triple-A and is hitting above .300 while playing steady defense. Houston will almost certainly want to protect him prior to this year's Rule 5 draft at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tyler Heineman flew under the radar a bit as an eighth round draft pick out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. Since signing, though, he's done nothing but hit. The switch-hitter posted a .352 batting average with 26 walks and 12 strikeouts in 55 games during his short-season debut last year. Jumped all the way to High-A to open 2013, Heineman has hit .329 with just eight strikeouts in 23 games.
Not flashy and with below-average power, the catching prospect shares a similar profile to that of seven-year big leaguer Ryan Hanigan of the Reds. The big challenge for the backstop is to continue polishing his defensive skills to meet the high standards set at the big league level. Time is on Heineman's side as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2015 season, which would then buy him three option years.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with the most impressive collection of catching depth in baseball with J.P. Arencibia at the major league level and a plethora of impressive prospects including d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Perez, A.J. Jimenez, and Santiago Nessy. Since midway through the 2012 season, Toronto has traded away d'Arnaud (Mets), Gomes (Indians) and Perez (Astros) in an effort to improve the pitching depth at the big league level.
The two remaining catchers have the talent to be considered among the club's Top 10 best prospects. Unfortunately, both have also been bitten by the injury bug. Jimenez blew out his elbow during the 2012 season and underwent Tommy John surgery. The club has been cautious with him in 2013 and he's already missed a little time after experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired elbow. Nessy received his first full-season assignment in 2013 and was off to a respectable start before suffering a concussion while trying to breakup a double play at second base. He has plus raw power and has made huge strides on the defensive side of his game.
Prospect Tidbits: Seattle's Zunino was considered the cream-of-the-crop when it came to eligible catching prospects in the 2012 amateur draft. Fast forward to 2013 and the University of Florida alum has already reached Triple-A. Two other highly-drafted catchers from 2012 are making names for themselves with solid play so far this season.
Perhaps the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League, the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (drafted 35th overall) is currently hitting .374 through 35 games in Low-A ball. He's also flashed power with 25 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. If he keeps up this pace, a promotion to High-A or Double-A should be in the cards. Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy (third round) has appeared in only 24 games thanks to a brief visit to the disabled list, but he's hitting .357 with 17 of his 30 hits going for extra bases. Like Plawecki, Murphy is probably too advanced at the plate for Low-A ball.
Another 2012 draft pick, Josh Elander, attracted attention as a second- or third-round talent as a college catcher but questions surrounding his ability to stick behind the dish caused him to slide to the sixth round where he was nabbed by the Atlanta Braves. After catching briefly in 2012, the prospect was moved out from behind the plate and has played 31 games in left field in 2013. The move has certainly agreed with his offense, as he's hitting .314 with an above-average power output.
The Prospect Rumor Roundup returns for a second week with a look back at the biggest trade of the offseason...
With Toronto almost 10 games out of first place at the beginning of May, and with the bandwagon already set ablaze by fickle fans, it's safe to say that this is not the type of start to the year that the Blue Jays front office was expecting. The organization orchestrated two key trades during the 2012-13 offseason, which brought a number of high-profile veterans north of the border, including R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio. A month into the season, those five players have accumulated a combined 0.3 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement).
With arguably a top five minor league system prior to the deals, Toronto mortgaged a good deal of its future for a chance to win now. While the veterans are struggling, the majority of the prospects -- no longer under the Jays' control -- are thriving in their new digs.
Catcher Travis d'Arnaud reportedly came close to winning a big league roster spot out of spring training with the Mets. He was assigned to Triple-A where six of his nine hits went for extra bases. He also added 12 walks before going down with a broken foot. He'll miss about eight weeks, but veteran catcher John Buck is holding down the fort in the Majors. D'Arnaud was added to the 40-man roster in November 2011 and is currently in his second of three option years, so he'll have to establish himself in the Majors by the end of the 2014 season to avoid being sent through waivers to be demoted to the minors.
One of three top young arms in Toronto's system prior to being dealt to the Mets, Noah Syndergaard has a 3.24 ERA in five High-A ball starts. He's been even better than it appears, though, as he allowed seven of his nine earned runs on the year in just one start. Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com recently spoke to the prospect's A-ball pitching coach to learn more about his approach. The Texas native is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2014 so he'll have to be added to the 40-man roster after next season to avoid being snatched away from the Mets.
Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra suffered a scary injury last year in rookie ball when he was hit in the face during an at-bat, ending his season after just 11 games. The 18-year-old was originally signed out of Venezuela for $1.3MM and was considered one of the top Latin amateur free agents in 2011. He's currently playing in extended spring training and should be assigned to a short-season club in June.
Adeiny Hechavarria was signed out of Cuba by the Jays and has taken over the starting shortstop gig in Miami, although he's currently on the disabled list. His offense hasn't kicked in yet but he's playing steady ball in the field and is known for being a plus defender capable of providing a ton of value with his glove alone. Hechavarria's traditional three option years expired at the end of 2012 but he was granted a rare fourth option year for the 2013 season, so he can be sent down to the minors this year -- if need be -- without being exposed to waivers.
Like Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino was a member of Toronto's top pitching trio. The Florida native has enjoyed his time in the Miami Marlins organization despite an inconsistent year to date and has a 3.60 ERA in five starts in the High-A Florida State League. Nicolino's adjustment to his hometown organization was recently outlined by Guy Curtright at MiLB.com. He doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season. I recently spoke with Marlins Director of Player Development Brian Chattin, who said the organization was happy with all the players they acquired. "Nicolino has shown an above-average changeup and a mature approach to his development," he added.
An injury to outfielder Jake Marisnick kept him on the sidelines until this past weekend. After spending 55 games at the Double-A level in 2013, he got his feet wet back in High-A ball before moving back to Double-A. He has plus defensive skills but a front office contact within the Jays organization told me during the offseason -- shortly before the big trade -- that he's still getting used to some adjustments made to his batting stance and swing mechanics. Chattin told MLBTR, "[Jake has] excellent makeup, he's a well-above-average athlete, impressive defender in center field and has the tools to be an impact major leaguer." Marisnick will have to be added to the 40-man roster this coming November to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
The lesser known name of the group of prospects sent to Miami, Anthony DeSclafani arguably has had the most success of the four players. The University of Florida alum has a 0.44 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 20.2 innings pitched. A reliever with inconsistent results in college, the organization is trying to stretch him out as a starter in pro ball. "Anthony has thrown strikes and lived at the bottom of the zone in each of his starts," Chattin told MLBTR. "We are allowing him to use his curveball in addition to his slider/fastball/changeup combination. He has confidence in his curveball and is using it well as a complement to the rest of his arsenal." Like Nicolino, DeSclafani has to be added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season.
Prospect Tidbits: With the recent success of 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball is enjoying renewed popularity. Orioles minor leaguer Eddie Gamboa is attempting to become the next successful big league knuckleballer. Benjamin Hill of MLB.com explained that the pitching prospect received some guidance from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro during spring training. Gamboa said that he's currently throwing his new pitch about 50 percent of the time in game situations, much to his surprise. Said Gamboa:
"I always put up okay numbers, enough to keep getting a job again but not enough to get a promotion... My game was stuck... The knuckleball was always something that I had practiced just in case, but I didn't think that just in case was going to be this year."
A talented two-way player in high school, Stetson Allie signed with the Pirates for a $2.25MM bonus in 2010 and began his career on the mound. When he was unable to harness his control (29 walks in 26 innings in 2011), the organization took a huge gamble by shifting the strong-armed prospect to first base. It took a year of struggling to find his footing but Allie is finally tapping into his plus raw power and has eight home runs in 24 A-ball games. Mike Newman of FanGraphs.com recently watched the Pirates prospect play and he also spoke with Allie, as well as Pittsburgh's assistant general manager Kyle Stark.
The day after he was rocked for six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, the Phillies placed lefty John Lannan on the DL with a strained quadriceps in his left knee. There's no word yet on who will replace him in the rotation, but he could be out six-to-eight weeks. Tonight, the fourth-place Phillies and Cole Hamels host Adam Wainwright and the first-place Cardinals. Elsewhere in the NL East:
- "Let's just say if this continues, certainly we've gotta start visiting that here pretty soon," Mets manager Terry Collins told Mike Francesa of WFAN in regard to a question about quality reinforcements including top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. The Mets' rotation has struggled beyond Matt Harvey and Jon Niese. GM Sandy Alderson was noncommittal, telling Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, "It was always a case that it would be Zack’s sufficiency and the major-league team’s need. If those two things merge, the need and the performance converge, then it is a possibility. That could happen sooner or it could happen later." Ackert hears that people within the organization privately do not feel Wheeler is ready, plus the Mets would like to avoid the pitcher achieving Super Two status after the 2015 season (necessitating a promotion in mid-June or later).
- Meanwhile, another top Mets prospect won't be seeing Citi Field anytime soon. Catcher Travis D'Arnaud, acquired from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey trade, fractured a bone in his left foot yesterday in a Triple-A game.
- The Nationals' depth is on display, explains James Wagner of the Washington Post, with Kurt Suzuki seamlessly taking over as the starting catcher after Wilson Ramos suffered a hamstring injury.
- Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons is now represented by SFX, MLBTR has learned. He'd previously been with The Sparta Group, up until the August switch. A few new additions to our agency database include Jonathan Gray (advised by Jay Franklin of BBI Sports Group), Oswaldo Arcia (Martin Arburua), and Tony Cingrani (Curtis Dishman).
- "He's decent for a club that needs a starter. There are worse No. 5 starters in the big leagues right now, but he's not the pitcher he used to be," a scout told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports in reference to the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco, Miami's highest-paid player by a long-shot at $11.5MM, is a strong candidate to be traded this summer.
The Mets "retain an unfilled craving for a marquee outfielder," writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, and are monitoring superstars such as Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. One Mets person told Martino "there is heat there," in regard to the team having a preliminary discussion with the Marlins about Stanton. Still, Martino is unsure whether GMs Sandy Alderson and Larry Beinfest have discussed the powerful right fielder.
To acquire four years of Stanton, the Mets would likely have to part with their two best prospects, pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis D'Arnaud. An associate of Alderson's told Martino the GM "did not have any extra attachment to those players, simply because he traded for them."
According to Martino, the Mets debated using Wheeler to get Justin Upton or Wil Myers, during the Winter Meetings. They also considered asking for the Dodgers' Andre Ethier in an R.A. Dickey deal, and this spring checked in on the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano. So, it appears the Mets' long-term interest in improving the outfield runs the gamut, from the game's best young stars to overpaid veterans. The Mets were willing to increase payroll to the $125MM range last winter for the right players, writes Martino.
Keep in mind that no deals are close, and the idea that Stanton or CarGo could become available this year is speculation.
Links from the NL East...
- There's little question within the Mets organization that Travis d'Arnaud will become the team's starting catcher at some point this year, Mike Puma of the New York Post writes. However, d'Arnaud will start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, barring an injury. By keeping d'Arnaud in big league camp, the Mets are running the risk that he'll get injured and start picking up MLB service time while on the disabled list, Michael Baron of MetsBlog.com notes.
- The Braves front office doesn't seem concerned about the possibility that their lineup will strike out often in 2013, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. Martino also discusses the re-branding of the Braves in the post-Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox era. “We like talent,” one Braves person said.
- Don't be surprised if Mike Minor of the Braves and Domonic Brown of the Phillies are among the players who break out in 2013. ESPN.com's Keith Law includes these players on his list of former top prospects poised for big performances in the coming season.
Three years ago this time a memorable rumor made its way onto the pages of MLBTR, as ESPN reported the possibility of a Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols swap. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. quickly dismissed the report that the Phillies had talked internally about the idea, saying "I don't know who you're talking to, but that's a lie." It’s rare for such an exciting rumor to circulate during Spring Training, so it generated lots of discussion. Ultimately the rumors quieted down and the deal never materialized. Here are some National League notes for Friday morning...
- It's possible the Cardinals will release Ronny Cedeno and keep Matt Adams on the Opening Day roster, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes. Keeping Cedeno would give the Cardinals a backup shortstop, but they could instead choose to rely on Daniel Descalso.
- GM Kevin Towers is optimistic that the Diamondbacks' young starters will pitch better in 2013 after obtaining some MLB experience in 2012, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Towers also expects the addition of Brandon McCarthy and the strength of the team's bullpen will help the rotation.
- Some MLB evaluators aren’t fully convinced that Mets catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud warrants the attention he’s getting, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. “He’s 24 and hasn’t played in the big leagues yet,” one executive said. “Where was Yadi at 24? Where was Buster Posey at 24?” The Mets acquired d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey in December.
Earlier tonight, the Royals announced the signing of Miguel Tejada to a minor league contract. Whether or not the deal includes an invitation to Spring Training will be announced at a later date, the Royals said in a release. Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweeted the addition of Tejada could make Tony Abreu or Irving Falu expendable. Dutton added Falu has options remaining while Abreu doesn't (Twitter link). As the East Coast drops the ball on 2013, let's enjoy another round of MLB news and notes:
- Dutton projects the Royals' payroll to be in neighborhood of $83MM and it's hard for him to see it go much higher (via Twitter). The Royals could free up some salary by moving Luke Hochevar or Bruce Chen, but Dutton doesn't sense any urgency from the club to move either one. Another possibility, although less likely, is Chris Getz (Twitter links).
- The Mariners have contacted the Marlins about Giancarlo Stanton, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. However, one source Morosi spoke with doubts a trade will occur.
- Baseball America's Jim Callis has updated the 2013 amateur draft order. There are four potential compensation free agents remaining on the market (Michael Bourn, Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse, and Rafael Soriano). If they change addresses, their former club will get a pick at the end of the first round and their new team will forfeit their top choice (unless it's one of the top 10 overall).
- Within the same piece, Callis remains surprised the Mets were able to obtain Noah Syndergaard from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade. By adding Travis d'Arnaud and Syndergaard, which Callis projects as the Mets' second and third best prospects, the club has boosted their farm system into the top 20.
- Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post listed the Nationals posting the best record in baseball as the club's top storyline in 2012.
The Mets' trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays became official earlier tonight, and general managers Sandy Alderson and Alex Anthopoulos addressed the media in a conference call (all links go to Twitter)...
- Anthopoulos "had no idea" he would have this kind of money to spend this offseason (Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reporting).
- Noah Syndergaard was the last player the Mets insisted on acquiring, according to Anthopoulos (Knobler reporting). By that point, Travis d'Arnaud had been on the table for more than a week.
- Anthopoulos said that the deal was essentially agreed to by last Thursday (Knobler reporting).
- The Blue Jays wanted Mike Nickeas in the deal in case of an injury to Josh Thole, so that they can have a backup catcher who has caught Dickey's knuckleball before (via Joel Sherman of the New York Post).
- The Mets aren't punting 2013 and expect to acquire additional players this offseason, according to Alderson (ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reporting).
- The Blue Jays initially expressed interest in Dickey about one week prior to the Winter Meetings (via Rubin).
- Rubin adds that Alderson told d'Arnaud they would "see what happened" following Spring Training, and the GM also noted that d'Arnaud is very close to Major League ready.
- Alderson stressed that this was a baseball decision rather than a financial decision, and that the team's initial preference was to sign Dickey to an extension (Rubin reporting). Sherman relays that Dickey had several contract offers that would've kept him in New York long-term.
- Regarding the remainder of the offseason, Alderson says that the team will add a pitcher to whom they can commit a starting role (not just someone to compete with Jenrry Mejia). The team will also look to add catching depth, and is actively pursuing outfielders via free agency and trade (all links to Rubin).
- Sherman adds that Alderson would like someone with upside similar to their deal with Chris Capuano in 2011. Sherman speculates that Francisco Liriano could match that description.
- Anthopoulos said he would've walked away from trade negotiations had they thought Dickey's asking price was unreasonable, but they were comfortable with the numbers (via Rubin).
- John Buck's inclusion and the Mets absorption of his salary came about because the Blue Jays were at their financial limit, according to Anthopoulos (via Rubin).
Baseball people who have had the Blue Jays decline past trade proposals involving Travis d'Arnaud are “completely shocked” that GM Alex Anthopoulos has agreed to send the catching prospect to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports. "He's out of his mind," an AL official said of the Blue Jays GM. Here are some more notes from around MLB, starting with Dickey...
- One longtime agent not involved in the extension talks between the Blue Jays and the knuckleballer said a three-year extension in the $40-45MM range would be fair for both sides, Olney reports. It’d be a surprise of Dickey gets that kind of money, however. The Mets offered him an additional $20MM over two years and he sought an additional $26MM for that two-year period.
- Rival evaluators believe this could be an extraordinary return for the Mets.
- The A’s had interest in Stephen Drew, but didn’t want to overpay to keep him. Drew, who recently agreed to sign with the Red Sox, has declining range in the view of some rival scouts.
- Olney wonders if the Rangers might pursue Jason Kubel if they can’t agree with Arizona on a trade involving Justin Upton. Some MLB executives wonder if the Rangers overvalue their own prospects, according to Olney.
- Some evaluators say the Angels have an awesome offense but that their pitching staff lacks depth.
Earlier today, the Mets agreed to trade R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays pending Toronto and the NL Cy Young award winner coming to terms on a contract extension by a Tuesday 1 p.m CST deadline. The negotiations have already begun, as have the reactions to the proposed trade.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson received the maximum possible return for Dickey, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN.com and MLB Network Radio.
- Bowden adds (via Twitter) the Blue Jays have gone from non-contenders to division favorites with their second blockbuster trade in a month, which netted them Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes.
- The Mets are gambling Travis d'Arnaud becomes a perennial All-Star more than Dickey falls off, tweets MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.
- The timing is perfect for the Blue Jays to go all in and deal prospects, but it will take three years to see if it pans out for the Mets, tweets Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.
- In a separate tweet, Martino quotes an AL executive who says d'Arnaud is "an offensive catcher. He's OK back there. He's always been a baseball rat. Good kid."
- A talent evaluator echoed those sentiments about d'Arnaud praising his mental toughness to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger (Twitter link).
- A rival executive tells Newsday's Marc Carig "both sides win" with this trade adding Noah Syndergaard has an advanced feel for his three main pitches (fastball, curve, and changeup).
- Carig also tweets the trade looks good in the long view, but he can understand why Mets fans are upset for seeing more of the same in the immediate future.
- Dickey did himself no favors with the pointed remarks he made regarding his contract situation at the Mets' recent holiday party, writes ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin. This wasn't the first time Dickey has irked management with his outspoken views, according to Rubin citing Dickey's comments about Citi Field and its effect on David Wright before its reconfiguration.
- While some might dismiss the Dickey acquisition, it could very well be one of the most important moves made in what has become a fascinating AL East division race because the true separator will be starting pitching, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford also analyzes the starting rotation for each AL East team.
- For teams like the Blue Jays, this is the time to strike with blockbuster trades and free agent signings because of the weakness of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets, opines Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.