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d'Arnaud makes quick, lasting impression on Mets

NEW YORK -- Manager Terry Collins had Travis d'Arnaud on his roster for fewer than two months, a short amount of time for him to gather much insight into his young catcher. But by the time the season ended, Collins had seen enough to that know his pitchers relished having d'Arnaud behind the plate.

"These guys," Collins said, "they really trust him now."

In a short amount of time, the 24-year-old d'Arnaud proved himself as a stellar defensive catcher. He didn't meet the offensive expectations he'd brought from the Minor Leagues, though Collins believes that's the next step. The Mets anticipate d'Arnaud being their catcher for years to come, and his performance over 31 games in 2013 affirmed that expectation.

Collins said that the Mets gathered sufficient information about d'Arnaud before they acquired him from the Blue Jays last winter to know he had the potential to be a top-notch receiver, but it wasn't until he had d'Arnaud on his roster that Collins saw the talent and instincts that built his reputation.

"Until you're around the guy, you don't realize how sharp he is," Collins said. "He grasped the game plan very quickly, puts it in play, has a great feel for his relationship with the pitching staff."

What especially impressed Collins was how much time d'Arnaud spent with his starters in between innings. d'Arnaud ensured fluid communication, and he and the pitchers attacked hitters with a clear plan. For a catcher who suited up in a Major League clubhouse for only the first time in mid-August, it was a sign he was wise beyond his years.

"It shows how much he cares, and how much he wants to get better," Jon Niese said. "Going forward, it's going to be good for us to learn the hitters together. That way, we're on the same page."

d'Arnaud's propensity for "stealing strikes" also provided a sense of comfort for the pitchers, who knew they didn't have to be perfect in the strike zone to work the count in their favor. According to Niese, d'Arnaud can make pitchers look better than they really are.

It goes back to d'Arnaud's time playing for Toronto's Double-A affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where his manager was former longtime Major League catcher Sal Fasano. d'Arnaud said that he and fellow catcher Yan Gomes, now with the Indians, picked Fasano's brain every day, learning the intricacies and the art of catching.

"I worked with him day in and day out, and it just started feeling natural," d'Arnaud said.

d'Arnaud carried the skills learned from Fasano through his ascension to the Major Leagues, and he quickly showed his value behind the plate. The Mets are just hoping his bat catches up.

d'Arnaud hit .202 in 99 big league at-bats, with one home run and five RBIs. His .286 on-base percentage was well below the .347 he averaged over seven Minor League seasons. But Collins doesn't believe those numbers are indicative of d'Arnaud's ability.

"I've had too many people tell me he's going to hit, he's going to hit with power," Collins said. "I think when we get to Spring Training [and] he gets out there on a consistent basis, gets himself ready to be the guy, I think we'll see all that."

It didn't help that d'Arnaud missed about three months with a broken foot. He put up some impressive numbers after he returned, including a .304 average and a .487 on-base percentage through 19 games with Triple-A Las Vegas.

d'Arnaud showed flashes of that potential with the Mets, including his walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning in a 1-0 win over the Marlins on Sept. 15. Still, his production was inconsistent.

"I started off slow with the bat, just putting too much stress on myself and trying to overswing and hit everything 600 feet instead of just taking my hits," d'Arnaud said. "Eventually, those turn into doubles, and those eventually turn into homers."

That's what d'Arnaud will try and remember during the offseason: Keep it simple at the plate, and hits will follow.

Collins wants d'Arnaud to arrive in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in February with the mind-set that the starting job is his to win. d'Arnaud isn't sure how he'll feel going into camp, whether he'll experience the same kind of nerves he did in the past, but his approach each day won't change. He'll still work to prove himself and show that he deserves the opportunity.

Though d'Arnaud has already showed the Mets the capabilities that earned him attention as a Minor Leaguer, he still has improvements to make, but that's expected for a young player with scant time spent in a big league clubhouse.

But the Mets are confident d'Arnaud will be part of their future.

"Now if he hits like we've heard he's going to, he's going to be an All-Star," Collins said. "The way he catches, the way he throws, makes him special."

Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for

New York Mets, Travis d'Arnaud