Though he is only 22 years old, Travis d'Arnaud is already a seasoned veteran of professional baseball. Selected 37th overall out of high school in the 2007 Draft, d'Arnaud spent his first three Minor League seasons in the Phillies organization, culminating in a South Atlantic League title with Lakewood in 2009.
Just a few months later, however, he was sent to the Blue Jays as part of the deal that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia. Though d'Arnaud had his struggles in his first year with the Jays -- he hit .259 with six homers in 71 Class A Advanced games in 2010 -- he took a giant leap forward in his second. Under the tutelage of New Hampshire manager and former big league catcher Sal Fasano, d'Arnaud continued to improve his defense while setting career highs in almost every offensive category. He earned the Eastern League MVP for his efforts and later took home his second championship ring as well.
In the offseason, d'Arnaud traveled to Panama to play with Team USA in the IBAF Baseball World Cup, but his experience was cut short when he tore ligaments in his thumb several games into the tournament. He underwent successful offseason surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Ranked as the Blue Jays' top prospect and MLB.com's No. 25 overall prospect, d'Arnaud recently spoke to MiLB.com about his breakout season, his rehab from thumb surgery and his relationship with big league brother Chase.
MiLB.com: You were selected in the first round out of high school by the Phillies in 2007. What was that like?
Travis d'Arnaud: It was an unbelievable experience. We had our high school banquet that night too -- our baseball banquet -- and me and all my friends and a whole bunch of family were at my house waiting and watching the Draft [online]. I'll never forget getting the call a minute before the picks showed up online. I knew before everybody, but I kept my cool and tried not to say anything. Everybody went crazy. It was a fun time, it was really exciting for me and all the City of Lakewood, [Calif.].
MiLB.com: You had committed to Pepperdine University. What convinced you to forgo that opportunity and pursue a pro baseball career?
d'Arnaud: I love the game of baseball and I was getting such a great opportunity and great chance. And knowing I have the security from the college scholarship plan, knowing I could go back if anything happens.
MiLB.com: Fast forward to December 2009, and you were included in the trade between the Phillies and Blue Jays for Roy Halladay. What went through your head when you found out about the deal?
d'Arnaud: I was shocked, because I was actually on the golf course with a few of my buddies, and I was getting texts from my friends hearing I'd been traded on ESPN. I didn't know anything about it. Then I got a call from my agent saying I'd been traded for Roy Halladay. I was excited, shocked and honored. I can't believe I was even considered in a trade for an outstanding pitcher like Halladay -- one of the best pitchers, if not the best, in the game today.
MiLB.com: This year, you really took a step forward offensively. You set career highs in batting average (.311), home runs (21), RBIs (78) and OPS (.914), among others, and were named the Eastern League MVP. What was the difference as opposed to previous seasons?
d'Arnaud: I didn't really try to do too much. The years prior, I would try to hit a home run every time. I would try to manipulate the ball instead of just taking the correct swing and having the same approach every at-bat. This year, I was not trying to change everything so much and was just staying within myself. I knew that as long as I kept that approach, at the the end of the year, the numbers would show. It was a good year, I was really happy with my improvement, and I can't wait for this year.
MiLB.com: Obviously as a catcher, you have a big role on defense. How do you prepare for calling a game, in terms of dealing with your pitchers and researching opposing hitters?
d'Arnaud: I would talk to Sal [Fasano], our manager, and Pete Walker, the pitching coach. Before every game, we would meet up with a starting pitcher and talk about how to execute against each hitter, what type of hitter they are, their cold and hot spots, how they've been hitting the past five games. Little parts of baseball.
I was watching hitters too, watching where their swings were, even their practice swings. I see if they make little changes like moving off the plate or moving up. Sal told me to look for that, and I'm very grateful. I learned how to make adjustments based on how hitters make adjustments.
MiLB.com: The Fisher Cats won the Eastern League title this year. What was that experience like, to get your second ring in the Minors?
d'Arnaud: It was crazy. There's nothing better than ending the season with a win, especially when you're winning the league title. You get to go home happy and be happy all offseason because you won. Pretty much the whole team was happy and excited. During the playoffs, we were all really focused and just made sure we stayed concentrated and didn't worry about things off the field. And most of all, the coaching staff gave us a great environment to be around and made it easy for the team to mold and mesh and get along really well.
MiLB.com: You mentioned your manager at Double-A, Sal Fasano, who is known for his legendary mustache. Did anyone on the team challenge him for facial hair supremacy?
d'Arnaud: Nobody did. His facial hair, I like it. It's pretty funny. I wish I could grow facial hair like that. I wish I could grow a Fu Manchu, but unfortunately I can't.
MiLB.com: You tore ligaments in your thumb playing for Team USA at the World Cup in Panama. How did that happen and how has your rehab been going?
d'Arnaud: It was a low fastball and I tried to catch it and hold it there. I just caught it wrong and my thumb got underneath the ball. The ligament just tore, and it hurt a lot.
I had the surgery in early October, and now it's doing great. It feels normal. I'm able to swing, catch and lift weights again. No pain.
MiLB.com: What have you done this offseason to keep busy since the Games?
d'Arnaud: With the rehab I had on my thumb, I've been running a lot, trying to keep my legs in shape, because I wasn't able to lift like I normally do. I've been doing a lot of cardio, agility, some running. By the time Spring Training comes around, I want my legs to be underneath me. My legs are ready to go.
MiLB.com: Your brother, Chase, is also a pro baseball player with the Pirates. Did you have any sibling rivalry growing up?
d'Arnaud: I mean a little bit, though nothing too crazy. We played on the same team only one year, so there wasn't any other league where we could play together. We were pretty much rooting for each other the whole time. In high school, I only got to play against him one game. My older brother was on the field and I wanted to beat him. My competitiveness came out for sure. But when we were younger, we were always there for each other.
MiLB.com: Who's the better athlete between you two?
d'Arnaud: It depends on what your definition of athleticism is. If it's based on speed and agility, I have to give it to Chase. As far as strength goes, I think I have him in strength. It all depends on how people view athleticism.
MiLB.com: Chase got to the Major Leagues this year. What did you he tell you about that experience?
d'Arnaud: Just to soak it all in. You never know when everything can come to an end, and pretty much enjoy every second on the field up there. Ask questions from everybody, take in all the knowledge they have to offer and be very grateful for everything.