D'Arnaud a born star
MANCHESTER - Travis d'Arnaud knows pro all-star games. He was just 18 and a year removed from high school when he was selected to his first minor league midsummer classic, the New York-Penn League game in
The catcher from Long Beach, Calif., made one more all-star game as a teenager, the 2008 South Atlantic League version. He was in the Florida State League All-Star Game last year and now, after getting picked as one of six Fisher Cats to play in today's Eastern League All-Star Game, d'Arnaud is a perfect 4-for-4 in all-star selections during his pro career.
This isn't exactly a surprise. After all, d'Arnaud was a first-round pick of the Phillies (37th overall) in 2007, he was one of the top-flight prospects Philadelphia used to trade for Roy Halladay in 2009, and before this season began he was rated as the No. 36 prospect in all of the minor leagues by Baseball America. But when asked about the string of all-star games, d'Arnuad doesn't sound like he expected all the success or that he's let it go to his head.
"I'm just honored even to be considered to be an all-star. That's not something I try to think about, especially with as much of a grind as this sport is and coming in every day and you have to have the same mind-set," d'Arnaud said. "I've been playing pretty well, I feel like it, and I guess it shows with me being an all-star and I'm just honored by it."
D'Arnaud is an athletic 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. He's quick and fluid behind the plate (only two passed balls in all 2010) and he's just as capable at it (.315 average, .552 slugging, .941 OPS so far this season). He was clearly blessed with natural talent, just like his brother, Chase, an infielder for the Pirates. But the d'Arnaud athletic DNA didn't arrive via the route you might expect.
"My dad only played one year of baseball, 12-year-old year in Little League, that's it. My mom was a dancer, so I'm guessing that's where we got a lot of our talent," d'Arnaud said with an easy smile. "But my dad was a surfer, so we got even more balance from that I guess."
Chase made his major league debut on June 24 against the Red Sox. Travis was catching that night for the Fisher Cats (against the Red Sox-affiliate Sea Dogs no less), so he didn't get to Pittsburgh for the occasion, but d'Arnaud said he does talk to his brother nearly every day. And that's just one of the regular baseball conversations that have helped d'Arnaud progress. New Hampshire Manager Sal Fasano played 11 major league seasons as a catcher and he has no end of information and advice for d'Arnaud.
"It's awesome to have (Fasano) as a manger. Everything I do, he advises me," d'Arnaud said. "On my days off I sit next to him and he just describes everything in such detail and I'm all open ears just learning everything I can. He's helped my throwing tremendously. He's helped my receiving tremendously, even game calling. I'm learning a lot of little things that I never even considered, every little detail of the game, and that's what this game is, details."
Fasano enjoys tutoring his talented young catcher, but the baseball lifer also knows there's only so much good talking can do.
"Working with Travis and the catchers, that's the most fun part of the job for me," Fasano said. "But at the same time it's a hard thing to teach somebody because it is more of an experience position. You just need to experience certain things. I can tell you something until I'm blue in the face, but unless you actually feel it, sometimes you can't really grasp it."
That's not to say d'Arnaud isn't grasping it, because he clearly is.
"He's been swinging the bat really well and I think he's doing a good job learning the pitching staff," Fasano said. "He's also getting a sense of how to come up with a game plan, so he's making definite strides behind the plate and hopefully he'll continue to do it."
Given d'Arnaud's talent and track record, it's hard to imagine him not continuing to stride forward and improve. Just this year he went 9-for-48 for April (.188 average) but he made the necessary adjustments and went 25-for-61 in May (.410). If he keeps making strides at that rate, the next all-star game for d'Arnaud might be in the big leagues.
(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)