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December 19, 2014

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Franchise has changed, but top-flight catcher prospect still wears 51s hat

Travis d’Arnaud returns to Las Vegas after being traded to Mets organization

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud looks on while waiting to take batting practice before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Las Vegas 51s Practice

Pitcher Carlos Torres throws the ball during Las Vegas 51s practice at Cashman Field Tuesday, April 2, 2013. The 51s open the season Thursday against the RiverCats at Sacramento. This is the first year the 51s are affiliated with the Mets. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas 51s catcher Travis d’Arnaud isn’t different from most prospects beginning the Triple-A baseball season in the same city as last year.

There is one difference, however. He’s part of a new organization.

The 51s are no longer affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays, but that did little to keep d’Arnaud away from Las Vegas.

D’Arnaud was traded to the New York Mets organization in an offseason in the deal that sent 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto. The 51s became the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in the offseason when the Blue Jays took over the Mets’ old affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y.

That brought d’Arnaud back to Southern Nevada for another season. The 51s begin the 2013 campaign at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sacramento.

“I’m just looking forward to being here again,” d’Arnaud said. “It’s close to my hometown (Long Beach, Calif.), and many of my friends and family will come out. … I got a new place. It’s right around the same area. I like this town and I come here for vacation in the offseason.”

D’Arnaud was a key component of the Dickey deal. He is considered one of the top catching prospects (No. 1 by MLB.com), and the future catcher of the franchise.

It was the second-time d’Arnaud was dealt for an elite-level pitcher. The first time happened in 2009 when he was dealt to Toronto from Philadelphia as part of the Roy Halladay deal.

Although d’Aranud considers being a top prospect an “honor,” he added it means nothing until he gets to the big leagues.

“I haven’t done anything in the majors. I have to keep working hard and one day I’ll get there and become a great player,” said d’Arnaud, who is on the Mets' 40-man roster.

D’Arnaud’s first season in Las Vegas was cut short by a left knee injury that saw him miss most of the 2012 season. He played in 67 games, hitting .333 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs.

With many of the players transitioning from the International League to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, having d’Arnaud can be a big boost to some of the players who will be adjusting to different climates.

Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ top pitching prospect, said he’s not deterred by the league’s reputation.

“I’m somewhat prepared for it,” Wheeler said. “You have to pitch and pitch through it. Fly balls are going to get out of here. You have to keep in the back of your mind, that it’s probably going to stay in the park in other leagues.”

It also helps to have a player like d’Arnaud, who based on a few outings together, can block Wheeler’s powerful fastballs that get into the dirt.

“He was blocking all of them,” said Wheeler of the first time he and d’Arnaud worked as a battery together. “It was good to have a guy back there who can stop an 0-2 fastball with a guy on third.”

While d’Arnaud’s on-the-field contributions will be welcomed, 51s manager Wally Backman said it’s his leadership on and off the field that will greatly benefit the 51s and the Mets.

“The leadership he’s going to bring on the field with a young pitching staff is going to be a big quality the organization is going to be looking for,” Backman said. “He’s the complete player.”

D’Arnaud doesn’t like thinking about eventually getting the call to the show, and has put a premium — at the moment — on winning his third minor league baseball championship.

Backman, however, doesn’t expect d’Arnaud (or Wheeler for the matter) to be around for the whole season.

“Those guys are short stays here,” Backman said.

The 51s' home opener at Cashman Field is next Friday against Colorado Springs, which is the start of an eight-game home stand.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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