When the Braves inked Travis d’Arnaud last offseason to a two-year pact for $16 million, it went mostly under the radar on a national level. d’Arnaud once had a lot of hype coming up as a prospect, but injuries quickly took their toll, and he found himself bouncing around from team to team until he finally had a mini-breakout with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019.
The Braves swooped in and hit big, landing the National League’s Silver Slugger at the catching position as he beat out the likes of J.T. Realmuto and Willson Contreras. It was quite the year for the recently-turned 32-year-old, and now all eyes will be on him as he looks to repeat — or at least come close to doing so — his magical, shortened 2020 campaign.
d’Arnaud hit the snot out of the baseball last summer. Check out these absurd batted ball numbers:
As with all things 2020-baseball-related, we are talking about a very small sample size. d’Arnaud appeared in 44 games with Atlanta last summer, serving as the starting catcher in 38 of them and working as the DH in the other six. He hit to the tune of an out-of-his-mind .321/.386/.533 with a 144 wRC+, the 32nd best mark in all of baseball, fueled by a .412 batting average on balls in play. That number is nearly guaranteed to regress at least somewhat, even if he continues hitting rocket ships all over the diamond.
If you extend d’Arnaud’s numbers dating back to when he joined the Rays in May 2019, Travis owns a .283/.344/.484 line (120 wRC+). That feels about right for 2021, although the projection models are all significantly lower on him (Steamer 98 wRC+, ZiPS 96 wRC+) and catching in the heat of the Atlanta summers is a difficult business.
The Braves will lean heavily on d’Arnaud in 2021. Keeping him healthy and fresh will be of the utmost importance. It appears young Alex Jackson or William Contreras will serve as the club’s No. 2 catcher barring a last-minute reunion with Tyler Flowers. d’Arnaud will likely slot into the middle of the Braves’ order behind Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, giving him unlimited opportunities to impact the game at the plate. As he enters the final year of his deal in Atlanta, all eyes will be on d’Arnaud as he looks to repeat his career-best 2020.