When Sandy Alderson shipped R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, he did so with an eye on the future. According to the Mets GM’s latest WFAN radio hit, a key piece of that future could debut with the Mets sooner than later. Alderson hinted that Travis d’Arnaud could open the season with the big club, via New York Daily News:

“I just don’t want to rule anything out,” Alderson said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to create false expectations for our fans or put pressure on Travis. He hasn’t played since last June (because of a knee injury). . . . As far as Opening Day is concerned, he could be with us. But we have a very capable veteran in John Buck as well.”

d’Arnaud, of course, was the centrepiece that the Mets coveted in the package of Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra, and John Buck that led to them jettisoning the reinging National League Cy Young winner. Alderson’s suggestion that the game’s top catching prospect stands a reasonable chance of making the Mets out of spring training shouldn’t come as a shock, as he was more or less building on praise he offered d’Arnaud last week in an ESPN New York piece from Adam Rubin:

“We viewed d’Arnaud, and I believe the industry views Travis, as the top catching prospect in the game,” Alderson said. “And not just the top catching prospect, but the one who is closest to major league ready, if not now major league ready. In addition, we think his upside is such that he could be a significant player for us over the next many years.

“Understand he’s only a prospect. Understand he has not done anything at the major league level. But given his ceiling, given his position and given what we think he can do not just long term for the Mets — near term, medium term — we think he can be a difference-maker.”

Naturally, this raises the questions of “what can we expect from d’Arnaud?”. Well, let’s put our faith in Dave Szymborski’s ZiPS projections to give us an idea of what the 24-year old may be able to accomplish in his first MLB season.

Travis d’Arnaud 2013 ZiPS projections: 407 PA; .257/.305/.424; .315 wOBA; 20 2B; 13 HR; 50 RBI; 2 SB; 5.4 BB%; 24.1 K%

That doesn’t quite jive with the dreams of Johnny Bench that the average Toronto Blue Jays fan had at his or her ready. Szymborski’s projections give d’Arnaud a 1.9 WAR season as a rookie, and he provides Joe Oliver as his No. 1 comparable. For what it’s worth, the two most recent catchers to win a Rookie of the Year award, Buster Posey and Geovany Soto, had 4.2 and 3.9 win seasons by Fangraphs measure. Looking exclusively at wOBA, d’Arnaud’s ZiPS projection puts him in a club with 2012 Russell Martin, 2011 Jonathan Lucroy, and 2011 J.P. Arencibia, to name a few.

These projections more or less take a dump on a lot of people’s expectations for d’Arnaud, but they offer a sense of realism. It’s not that d’Arnaud is being pegged as a bust, but catching at the Major League level is a difficult job. The pitcher friendly nature of Citi Field is a major consideration here, too. Whatever the case, if you’re of the mindset that Travis d’Arnaud is going to step on a Major League field and slug like Mike Piazza and run like Russell Martin, then you’re in for a surprise in the form of diminished results.

It’s all about the process for the Mets, not false expectations, just like Sandy Alderson said so.

Image via MiLB.com