Travis d’Arnaud has willed himself into becoming a keeper. He stared down deep struggle this year, and emerged as the talent he was supposed to be. For passing the emotional test that separates prospects from duds, he deserves nothing but credit.
But there remains one serious concern, though it is no fault of his: D’Arnaud is just 25 years old, and has suffered four known concussions. This is an issue that he takes seriously, and that has led some on the staff to wonder if a shift to left field might preserve the best parts of d’Arnaud, without risking his brain.
“We’ve talked about it,” Terry Collins told the Daily News. “We’ve brought it up. Obviously, with what he’s started to do offensively, we’ve got to see if these concussions are leading to anything. Is he changing his position (defensively), where he is positioning himself behind the hitter, to get less foul tips?”
D’Arnaud’s reaction? An upbeat and instant, “I have played left before (though not professionally). Wherever they need me to play, and feel would be best for me, I’ll go wherever they need me to...It makes sense. If they want me to go out there, I’ll work hard to be an outfielder, because wherever they need me to go, I’ll go.”
To be very clear: Collins stressed that this is not a likely change, or a scenario that has been seriously discussed, within the organization or with the player. Do not walk away from this column believing that d’Arnaud might be the Mets’ left fielder next year. Instead, view this as a revealing thought experiment.
Seasoned baseball people are taking seriously these factors: D’Arnaud’s concussion history, the need for power in the outfield, and the presence of catching prospect Kevin Plawecki at Triple-A Las Vegas.
The head injuries are most important. As a different Mets person said, “We could be one bad foul tip from losing him for a long time.”
Far from falling back on the macho “hey, that’s the job” nonsense you hear from some catchers, d’Arnaud was open and evolved when discussing a position change designed for his protection.
Asked how worried he was about his concussion history, d’Arnaud said, “We’ll see what happens on the next one. I play baseball now, but when I’m 70, I’m not going to be playing anymore, and these things are for real. This is a serious thing. You’ve got to be smart about it.”
Health is the paramount concern, but there are baseball reasons that make the idea less insane than it might initially seem. The Mets need a power-hitting corner outfield next year, and have fantasized about the Carlos Gonzalezs of the world. As one National League evaluator said of d’Arnaud, “His power is legit, and catching is such hard work. If you took that off his plate, I bet you would see his numbers go way up.”
There is also the matter of Plawecki, held in high regard by the organization and set to turn 24 in February. “We’ve just talked about it as a coaching staff,” Collins said. “If this guy (Plawecki) is as good as they tell me he is…”
Moving d’Arnaud to left solves the problem of a logjam?
“It does. And you don’t want to have both of them (catching), because somebody doesn’t get enough playing time. But as of right now we haven’t even approached (left field) as an option, because it would have to be go to the instructional league, get to (Port St. Lucie) in January and start the process.”
Still, the idea is intriguing enough to imagine what it would look like. “He’s got some things that could play out there,” Collins said. “He runs good enough. He throws good enough.”
The primary takeaway here is that concussions have become serious enough, through all the attention paid in recent years to the NFL and other sports, to infiltrate conversations among sun-soaked coaches, and players at an age when it is normal to feel invincible. And also that d’Arnaud is a totally different player than he was before a June demotion to Triple-A.
“I was overthinking everything,” d’Arnaud said if the season’s early months. “Trying to overanalyze everything. I just got way too stiff, and wasn’t myself.”
Now, “it’s more just being even-keeled. Just not getting too high, not getting too low, just looking at things differently. And hopefully it’s paying off. It’s keeping my mind at ease, less stress.”
The Mets have found a keeper in d’Arnaud, after he found it within himself. The next question is how to preserve him.