DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Travis d'Arnaud has quietly flown under the radar during his second Spring Training with the Blue Jays.
While rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia receives most of the attention, d'Arnaud continues to make an impression in the organization with his work behind the scenes.
The 21-year-old has appeared in only seven Grapefruit League games, but his overall potential has still shown through to Toronto manager John Farrell.
"You've got a guy that can control the running game from the way he throws, and he's not afraid to lead a pitching staff," Farrell said. "In the early conversations between innings, or conversations early in camp, he shows a presence and is not afraid to speak his mind.
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"Sometimes pitchers can be very blinded and have poor self evaluation, but he doesn't allow it, and that's a huge talent and a huge trait for a young guy to have and be willing to speak his mind regardless of who is pitching."
The Blue Jays coveted d'Arnaud long before they acquired him as part of the Roy Halladay trade in December 2009. Toronto wanted to take the native of California in the first round of 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- only to see him selected by Philadelphia one pick before they were going to take him.
One of the main reasons for Toronto's interest was d'Arnaud's defensive abilities. He possesses a well-above-average throwing arm -- evidenced by his throwing out 30 percent of baserunners at Class A last season.
He also has an impressive amount of quickness and athleticism behind the plate. What has impressed Farrell the most, though, is d'Arnaud's baseball IQ and natural feel for the game. He has an ability to make pitches look better than they actually are.
"I love the way he frames a pitch," said Farrell, who believes d'Arnaud is capable of earning an extra 8-10 strikes a game. "He's going to get a lot of borderline strikes at the bottom of the strike zone, because if you watch his receiving [his glove] ends up coming into the zone, but he makes it in such a way that it doesn't look like he's trying to steal a pitch that might turn some umpires off."
d'Arnaud is coming off a down year in the Minor Leagues in part because of a herniated disc in his lower back. He hit just .259 with six home runs and 38 RBIs in 71 games before being shut down in July with the injury.
"It happened in early April, and I tried to play through it," said d'Arnaud, who hit .328 with three home runs and five doubles in his first 16 games. "But after it got really bad, I had to take a month off. I tried to come back and play, but it came back, so they shut me down and sent me home to go through rehab.
|"There's power in there that we haven't seen in camp, at least in games, but every report we have projects he's a front-line everyday catcher."|
-- Manager John Farrell, on Travis d'Arnaud|
"I feel totally fine now and I'm not trying to make excuses. It was just a rough season last year you could say."
d'Arnaud is expected to begin the 2011 season with Double-A New Hampshire. There he will have an opportunity to work with manager -- and former Major League catcher -- Sal Fasano. The two spent a lot of time going through drills during the early stages of camp, and Farrell believes it's an ideal partnership moving forward.
"Sal has a tremendous amount of experience that he can tap in to and part on young players," Farrell said. "He'll set an expectation that is not of the Double-A level but this is what the standard would be once and if they get to the big league level at some point in time. It's invaluable to have that kind of resource there."
d'Arnaud has welcomed the opportunity to work not only with Fasano but bench coach Don Wakamatsu and veteran backup catcher Jose Molina. The group has pinpointed a couple of things about d'Arnaud's work behind the plate that still could use some refining.
"It's a real great opportunity, especially with Jose here," d'Arnaud said. "We have three different great catching people that we can pick and choose from and learn from.
"For me, it's just relaxing, because last year and the few years before that I used to always be tense. Now it's about relaxing and allowing your body to do what it wants, stay loose and stay flexible."
There's little debate of whether d'Arnaud has the defensive tools to succeed at the Major League level. The question is whether his offense will follow suit.
He has a quick bat with an ability to hit the ball to the opposite field, and his power numbers are expected to increase as he gets older. He might not have the same type of upside of Arencibia, but Farrell believes he will do just fine.
"He has enough bat to be an everyday catcher and not a backup," Farrell said of d'Arnaud, who has one hit in nine at-bats this spring. "Granted, he hasn't gotten consistent at-bats here, and at some point we're going to have to look at that and say what's most beneficial for him to get ready for the start of the season. Is it to get one or two at-bats here or to get him down and get him going every day?
"There's power in there that we haven't seen in camp, at least in games, but every report we have projects he's a front-line everyday catcher."