Looking at the Catching Depth of the New York Mets

The New York Mets have good depth at most positions. Their outfield is overcrowded, with four capable players (especially if Juan Lagares continues to play the way he has in spring training), and their infield depth, while worse without Ruben Tejada, is still solid. One place where the Mets depth is wanting is at catcher. They are fortunate enough to have two major league caliber catchers in Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. If one or both of them goes down with an injury for any extended period of time,however, the Mets will have a serious problem trying to find a catcher who can produce for the team. There were also rumors of Plawecki starting the season with Triple A Las Vegas, but the lack of depth would make that a tough decision.

Travis d’Arnaud is a good catcher, there is no doubt about it. He has double digit home run power, with 13 and 12 in 2014 and 2015 respectively. He was a better hitter last year in basically every category, with a slash line of .268/.340/.485, improving from a 2014 season of .242/.302/.416. He struck out 3.1% more in 2015 (18.3% K%), but he improved his walks as well, going up from 7.6% to 8.6%. His Isolated Power (ISO) statistic went up significantly, from .174 in 2014 to a superb .218. He has the 6th highest wRC+ since his first full season in 2014 of all catchers who have had 600 at-bats or more (side note: I had to manually search for all catchers with 600 plate appearances or more because he did not qualify for catchers since 2014. Only five did, as you can see here). His biggest issue, and why depth at the position is extremely important for the Mets, is the fact that he struggles to stay on the field.

d’Arnaud has never played more than 108 games in a season un the majors, and only played 67 games last season. In the minors, his highest number of games played was 126 in 2009, and he has only topped 100 games played in a minor league season one other time (2011), according to his Fangraphs page. Simply put, he has to prove to the organization that he can stay healthy, even if his injuries are hard luck injuries (a foul ball gave him a foot fracture in 2013, he had a concussion in 2014, was hit by a pitch and fractured his pinkie, and hyper-extended his elbow on a play at the plate in 2015). As Terry Collins said after his last injury of 2015, “He gets hurt. And when he gets hurt, it’s legit”. Pair that injury history with playing the most physically intensive position in baseball, and there is plenty of reason to plan for strong catching depth.

Kevin Plawecki, because of d’Arnaud’s injury history, is invaluable to the Mets, despite his abysmal 2015. He was bad last year, with a .219/.280/.296, 3 home runs, 21 RBIs and a 60 wRC+ (yes, a 60 wRC+), while striking out in an ungodly 23.3% of his at-bats. However, he was always a strong offensive player in the minors: he hit .250/.345/.384, 121 wRC+ in Low A ball in 2012, .314/.390/.494, 152 wRC+ and .294/.391/.392, 131 wRC+ in Single A and High A ball respectively, and .326/.378/.487, 140 wRC+ and .283/.345/.421, 99 wRC+ in Double-A and Triple-A respectively. While he was disappointing in Triple-A, he still was a solid hitter. 2015 was a disaster at the plate for him in both the majors and in Triple-A, where he hit .224/.267/.341, 59 wRC+ (he was somehow worse in Triple-A).

Regardless of his 2015 struggles, his past minors experience shows that he can hit. If he can hit at even his 2014 Triple-A level, that is good enough for a backup catcher in the majors.

However, behind Plawecki is where the Mets have serious catching issues. The catchers on the 40-Man roster outside of d’Arnaud and Plawecki are: Nevin Ashley, Xorge Carrillo, Jeff Glenn, Raywilly Gomez, Johnny Monell, Tomas Nido, and Colton Plaia. There are 76 at-bats, and 47 games played between these seven players, all of which are from Nevin Ashley (12 games, 20 at-bats, .100 average) and Johnny Monell (35 games played, 56 at-bats, .161 average, .167 average with the Mets last season in 27 games). The other five have never played significant innings above Double-A, and only Carrillo and Gomez have played that high. Most of these players have never played above Advanced High-A ball.

There is an obvious problem behind d’Arnaud and Plawecki for the Mets. If one of them would go down (or Plawecki inexplicably starts the season in Triple-A), Johnny Monell would be the next catcher up. He was largely forgettable for the team last year, outside of a game winning double against the San Francisco Giants in July. If d’Arnaud and Plawecki stay healthy, there is not much of a problem, but with the grueling nature of the position and d’Arnaud’s injury history, that is not likely, and may pose a problem in the Mets quest for another trip to the Fall Classic.

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