PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) The way the New York Mets look at it, they have two catchers good enough to start in the majors.
Some might say they have none.
While the Mets focused on filling other holes this offseason, one thorny area where they didn’t make a big move to mask their warts was behind the plate. They’re still counting on once-touted prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki – or at least one of them – to solidify the position.
”We like the potential of both players. We think the way they grade out against the rest of the league is at least a little above average, and looking at the alternatives available to us, we felt these two guys were our best option,” general manager Sandy Alderson explained Monday, two days before New York’s first formal workout at spring training.
For this pitching-centric team trying to rebound from a 2017 flop, it’s a leap of faith with the in-house guys.
Time for them to catch on – for good.
”Both of us are very confident,” d’Arnaud said.
The incumbent starter, d’Arnaud was selected 37th overall by Philadelphia in the 2007 amateur draft. He did well enough in the minors to win a Double-A MVP award and get included in trades for Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and R.A. Dickey.
Despite a reputation for being injury-prone, d’Arnaud was productive when healthy with the Mets from 2014-15. He even hit three home runs in the 2015 NL playoffs before New York lost the World Series to Kansas City. But he slumped so badly the following year, plunging to four homers and 15 RBIs with a paltry .629 OPS in 75 games, he lost playing time to defensive standout Rene Rivera.
He rebounded last season with career highs of 16 home runs and 57 RBIs in 348 at-bats as the Mets finished 70-92 after fading from contention early. But his on-base percentage was only .293, leaving him with a less-than-stellar mark of .306 in just 393 games over five big league seasons.
”Be more selective. Swing at better pitches,” said d’Arnaud, who turned 29 on Saturday. ”I think my chase rate went up a little higher than it should have been.”
And while d’Arnaud has shown a deft touch framing pitches, his throwing arm and game-calling are considered suspect. So he needs to hit to stay on the field.
Plawecki, who turns 27 this month, also was rated a top prospect in the minors after the Big Ten Player of the Year was drafted 35th overall by the Mets in 2012 out of Purdue. He got his first chance to spell an injured d’Arnaud with New York early in the 2015 season, batting only .219 with a .576 OPS in 73 games.
He’s bounced back and forth from Triple-A Las Vegas since, losing his job as the backup catcher to Rivera in 2016. But after getting recalled late last season, Plawecki, who has a good eye at the plate, made noticeable strides and finished with a respectable .764 OPS in 37 games.
He lacks a strong arm, but seems adept at handling pitchers.
”I think it takes some time to get used to playing in New York,” Plawecki said. ”When I first came up I was young and kind of na�ve in a sense, didn’t know what to expect and things sped up on me a little bit and there was that mental grind I hadn’t been used to before. Having that mentality up and down over the last couple of years has allowed me to take a step back and just focus on what’s important and not really get caught up in things in New York that could get you in trouble. That’s what I kind of let happen early on.”
Plawecki and d’Arnaud shared playing time down the stretch last season, which might have helped both players remain fresh at the most demanding position on the diamond.
This offseason, they spent nearly two weeks together in Arizona working on receiving and throwing with Mets catching instructor Glenn Sherlock.
”We have a great relationship together, not only on the field but off the field. We’re great friends,” Plawecki said. ”I think it’s important for both of us to support each other and that’s what we’ve done from Day One. The situation is what it is. We just want to win games. It doesn’t matter how we do it. No matter who’s back there, we’re supporting each other, pulling the same end of the rope. That’s how we’re going to be able to win a championship, honestly. That’s the way we look at it.”
Rivera is gone but switch-hitter Jose Lobaton, a veteran backup also known for defense, was invited to camp on a minor league contract after spending the past four years with Washington.
Alderson said new manager Mickey Callaway and his coaching staff will determine the catching roles this year, but Plawecki has an opportunity to earn a larger one.
”I want to get to the World Series. I still have a big bitter taste in my mouth from losing in 2015,” d’Arnaud said. ”If they feel like we’ve got to platoon to get back there, I am all in.”
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