By the time the weekend concludes, the Toronto Blue Jays' Double-A affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, will have clinched their respective division, following a tremendous season. The Cats are no strangers to success, winning the division the past year and two years before, as well as boasting some of baseball’s best and most coveted prospects.
Every team -- whether it's major or minor league -- has a guy who, when watching, you simply can't get enough of. This year, that player is Travis d'Arnaud, and man has he been fun to watch. At the time he was acquired by the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay trade, d'Arnaud was easily the most unheralded addition from the blockbuster. In the eyes of many, the Jays had traded Doc for Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and some kid named d’Arnaud. Now, that order might as well be reversed. The strides d'Arnaud has made this year in Double-A have easily netted him the organization’s best prospect tag. Heck, he might even be the best catching prospect in the baseball.
D'Arnaud's season has been impressive. He was just named the Eastern League MVP after putting up a .313/.372/.513 line with 20 homers and an additional 77 RBIs. He has enjoyed success throughout the year -- despite some fatigue he has not been subject to any slumps.
"Part of not slumping at any point throughout the year had to do with me focusing day-to-day. Hitting the whole year definitely made the season more enjoyable," d’Arnaud said.
Playing under former big-league catcher, Sal Fasano, Travis relishes the opportunity to learn all he can from the man in charge. Fasano has often spoken about how much it means to him to see a guy like d’Arnaud progress and learn as much as he subsequently has this year.
"It's fun to see a guy get better as the year goes on. Because of his attitude and his worth ethic, he's become a leader, and if any catcher isn't a leader there's a problem," says Fasano. The affable brother of Chase d'Arnaud, Travis understands the situation at hand. He knows the kind of prospect he is and how valued he is by the organization. He, unlike some players, is also aware of what he’s learned and done this year that’s resulted in his improvement.
D'Arnaud observes, "The entire coaching staff has helped me tremendously. From Pete [Walker] telling me how to handle a pitching staff, to having Sal, a former catcher, teaching me how to catch, it’s important to remember everything I learned this year and stay focused."
Travis has shown countless amounts of dreamy showings at the plate, including an easy, simple approach accompanied by one of the quickest bats I've ever seen. However, his offensive game isn’t solely why he's as highly regarded as he is. New Hampshire pitchers like Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, Henderson Alvarez and Zach Stewart have often raved about d'Arnaud's defense, and the same plaudits come from his manager and pitching coach.
"You'll see him call time out a little more often and try to calm the pitchers down. He's a leader behind the plate and also at the plate, as he'll give hitters tips as well," Pete Walker says.
I've been lucky enough to cover the Fisher Cats this season, and seeing guys like Anthony Gose and this pitching staff as well as d'Arnaud's progress has truly been worth the road trips and long hours at the park. In particular, d'Arnaud has grown up a lot. As he notes, "this season was a real helpful year for me and a good learning experience."
It's not yet known what the Jays' plans are for d'Arnaud. While he has often spoke of his dreams of playing big league ball, he's aware of arbitration-related formalities as well as the Jays' current catching corps, which features a possible AL Rookie of the Year in J.P. Arencibia. However, the future is bright for the young catcher, and it's only a matter of time until he hops on a plane and heads north of the border.
After being crowned most valuable player and completing a season which -- as d'Arnaud often told me -- involved playing through lots of fatigue and so many tiring days, the next challenge for him to overcome is that of reaching the major leagues. It's only a matter of time until Jays fans can watch him play every day.
"Hopefully one day I can get up to Toronto, and play like I'm playing now. And who knows what will happen? Maybe I'll be a good player," d'Arnaud modestly notes.
Dave Gershman is the author of Marlins Daily, an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.