Travis D’Arnaud or Lou Marson?

One of the big themes I’ve noticed while reading talks about Phillies prospects has been the comparison between Marson and D’Arnaud. Last winter, Keith Law jumped D’Arnaud over Marson, and this winter Kevin Goldstein bumped D’Arnaud above Marson. Baseball America still puts Marson ahead, and the readers here who voted for the top 30 put Marson ahead. So I wanted to take a deeper look….

D’Arnaud was drafted in 2007, so we have two summers worth of data on him. Marson has obviously been around longer, so we have more of a track record on him. Let’s start from square 1. Marson was ranked the 6th best prospect in Arizona in the 2004 draft, and BA said this about him

• C Louis Marson and RHP Craig Heyer, batterymates at Coronado High, elevated their draft stock and could be picked in the first seven to 10 rounds. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Marson has been catching for only a year and made significant strides. He also has a near-perfect physique for the position. Heyer has plenty of upside in his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, along with a good fastball/slider mix.

So they noted he was raw defensively, but had a good build for the position. His athleticism has always been noted as a big plus in his profile. The Phillies took Marson in the 4th round, and his debut showed a line of

126 PA — .257/.333/.389 — 3 2B — 4 HR — 13 BB — 18 K

He had already showed promising plate discipline, and actually hit 4 HR in just 126 PA, but that ratio would begin to drop as we’ve seen. For his second season, he again played in a short season league, this time moving up to Batavia. In 252 PA’s, he put up this line

252 PA — .245/.329/.391 — 11 2B — 5 HR — 27 BB — 52 K

Again he showed good plate discipline, but he struggled with the bat in a very pitcher friendly league. His ISO went from .132 to .146, and his walk rate went from 10.3% to 10.7%. Those were both improvements, and both reasons for optimism underneath what looked like a pedestrian stat line.

Now lets shift gears and look at D’Arnaud. He was rated the 8th best prospect in California, a more traditional baseball hotbed, and the 49th best prospect in the entire country. BA had this to say about him

Scouting Report: In several ways, d’Arnaud resembles his older brother Chase, a two-year starter at third base for Pepperdine, and Travis has also committed to play for the Waves. Chances are he won’t get to school, though, because he’s a more athletic version of his brother with premium catch-and-throw skills behind the plate and a more advanced bat. While he’s still a streak hitter, d’Arnaud has showed an improved ability to stay inside the ball and drive it to all fields. It’s a quick, line-drive swing for the most part, but he has shown some loft power, with seven home runs, and he ranked among state leaders in RBIs. Defensively, he grades as above-average as both a receiver and thrower, with a plus arm, soft hands and quick feet. While he’s athletic enough to play an infield spot, he’s too good behind the plate–consistently getting his throws to second base in 1.9 seconds–to move.

Obviously a big difference in the writeups on both guys. D’Arnaud had a pedigree as a catcher, and his potential behind the plate is what got him drafted in the compensation round. In his debut after being drafted, as the Phillies did with Marson, he was sent to the GCL where he produced this line

151 PA — .241/.278/.348 — 3 2B — 4 HR — 4 BB — 23 K

He obviously struggled with the stick. His four walks compared with the 23 strikeouts indicated some struggles adapting to wood bats. Like Marson, the Phillies sent him to short season ball to begin his 2nd pro season, but unlike Sweet Lou, he would finish the season at Lakewood.

SS: 197 PA — .309/.371/.463 — 13 2B — 4 HR — 18 BB — 29 K
A: 70 PA — .297/.357/.469 — 5 2B — 2 HR — 5 BB — 10 K

What you see here is a huge leap forward in his walk rate (2.6% in 2007, 8.6% in 2008) and the solid ISO numbers.

The big takeaway from this, in my opinion at least, is that D’Arnaud’s improvements from his debut to his second season were more drastic than Marson’s. D’Arnaud hit over .300 in his second season, flashed good raw power (.172 ISO at Lakewood), and already was lauded for his defensive abilities. Marson’s secondary skills were evident after his first two seasons, but he didn’t show that rapid spike improvement. At this point, Marson has shown more at a higher level (obviously, he has 3 years experience on D’Arnaud), but you can see why scouts and evaluators are touting D’Arnaud. If you’re considering only ceiling, then I think its perfectly reasonable to rank D’Arnaud ahead of Marson. But Marson’s proximity to the majors still gives him a slight edge for me.

48 thoughts on “Travis D’Arnaud or Lou Marson?

  1. I’m a big fan of Marson, but I would have to give the edge to D’Arnaud. TD gets the edge because I’ve heard lots of positives about his defensive skills, whereas LM usually seems to be regarded as average to adequate with his catching abilities. In my very inexpert opinion, I think that both will have nice major league careers.

    – Jeff

  2. “If you’re considering only ceiling, then I think its perfectly reasonable to rank D’Arnaud ahead of Marson. But Marson’s proximity to the majors still gives him a slight edge for me.”

    I think that sums it up pretty well, and I think that’s the way we should look at it.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. I think Marson will end up being an average to above average major league catcher. D’Arnaud has the chance to be an all-star, but I think in terms of rating prospects’ proximity vs. potential, I’d also give the edge to Marson for now. Plus he already has a major league homer under his belt.

  4. its definately a nice problem to have, i dont think d’arnaud will hit over .300 at reading when he gets there but he is definately stronger defensively, I think you have to rank marson higher still because d’arnaud hasn’t even gone through single A yet, it will be interesting to see how he progresses through the system

  5. unless youve seen d,armand how can you possibly say he is better than marson. ive seen marson enough to know he will be good. never saw d,armand thus cant say unless you expect me to believe those experts like law and goldstein.by the way marson is a very good defensive catcher. throws out 40% of baserunners.

  6. Interesting comparison, thanks. Both these guys are top prospects but Marson is the one I think will have the better career, primarily because of his exceptional plate discipline.

    I’m not eager to see either one of these guys traded unless the deal is lopsided and includes pitching in return. Gonna be fun to follow them both this season.

  7. At this point each may be posed for another leap forward
    I am not a Ruiz fan at all. He could prove me wrong by following up with his playoff bat but I doubt it.
    Marson should get second half time at least.start next year.
    and D’Arnaud following closely. The Phils badly need to get back to plate discipline that has carried them for a decade
    (eliminate Bonds and the Phils have led in walks for a while)
    Seems like a situation only Ed Wade could screw up

  8. I had Marson ahead of D’Arnaud for a long time, but D’Arnaud has moved ahead of him for me. All the reports about Marson’s groundball swing have to be given some merit. He also doesn’t have enough boom in his bat. It’s not feasible to expect Marson to have higher than a .370 OBP in the MLB, and even that is very high. He doesn’t have the slugging to make him anything more than just a good catcher. D’Arnaud has the defensive skills and the power to be a great catcher. And considering Marson isn’t touching the majors this year before September most likely, D’Arnaud can catch up to him in a hurry.

  9. Also have to agree with PP’s assessment. Huge advantage, esepecially if we develop Naughton and others as backups. We should be able to trade one and keep the one we want and get a very good return if we wait until the demand peaks via a dire need by a contender, injury, etc. We could wind up with a very good pitching or 3B prospect. Or we keep them a couple years before we do anything and get great production. You need this kind of depth, because one of them could get injured.

  10. Cool comparison between the 2 catchers.

    I feel that the Phills tend to be loyal to their players who’ve been here and who’ve built a meaningful relationship. They brought Marson up and had him stay with the team throughout the playoffs. Several people in the organization have talked about him, maybe that’s because they were asked about him, but he seems their catcher of the future and only his performance alone, I believe, will move the Phills off that line of thinking.

    That’s just how I see it.

  11. Why not move one to 3rd base or another position, especially since we are not gonna be keeping Howard past his current contract. Put D’Arnaud (his bat sounds like it might carry) and leave Marson behind the plate where his bat won’t be outmatched.

  12. The problem with that is that D’Arnaud is the better defensive catcher…and moving either decreases their trade value significantly.

  13. hear we go again with howard. before it was the phils wouldnt sign him. now its hes going to traded before his 3 years is up. like i havent heard lets move utley to 1st base before. howard will be a lifelong phil.

  14. This reminds me of the situation of about 14, 15 years ago when the Phillies had Lieberthal and Estalella waiting in the wings at catcher. Most phans were split and didn’t really know who would be better. Many thought just looking at Esty’s arms that he would have more power and would be a better option. ‘course turns out the Phils made the better choice by trading away Bobby for , uh?, Chris Brock?…didn’t remember that. (Thanks baseball reference dot com) And Lieberthal was gonna be the cornerstone during many championship runs. I’d say that worked out for the Phils (except for the Lieberthal-on-a-championship-team part). Way to go Ed Wade! Of course by the time Ed made the trade, the choice was obvious and Estalella had lost much value. So maybe Ruben will have learned from that and will swallow hard and make a great trade while the value is high. But it’s hard to imagine Travis and Lou won’t play on the same team at some point ala Mike and Bobby before them.
    Trivia Note: Bobby Estalella, circa 1996 – 1999, was the second Bobby Estalella to play MLB in Philadelphia. His grandfather played for the A’s during WW2, OF and 3B. (yep,baseball-reference.com again)

  15. I’m liking this discussion, and it will be interesting to see how things play out over the next few years with the Phils and their “problem” at catcher – Naughton (good defensive, lefty hitter) seems ideal as a backup catcher and Valle are going to garner a lot of attention. I look forward to catching (bad pun, I know) a couple of Lakewood games this year, and D’Arnaud is certainly a prospect that I’m eager to watch in person.

    – Jeff

  16. Last Spring, I saw Marson (along with Jenkins) hit several warning track shots in BP. Note that he didn’t play during those games. My guess then, was if he added a few lbs, then there would be a difference this spring. I’ll know in a couple of weeks.

  17. What a great “problem” to be discussing!

    As many, I am a big fan of: Marson, D’Arnaud & Valle. When they drafted D’Arnaud, I was thrilled but Marson just continues to improve year after year. I can’t wait to see him starting for the Phillies.

    At this point, I would still rate Marson ahead of D’Arnaud …BUT… D’Arnaud has the chance to be something special.

    This is especially interesting when you consider that Carlos Ruiz had one of his worst professional seasons last year and that he had hit over .300 in AAA with something like 15 or 16 hr’s in his last full year there. We may be looking @ the future possibility of having 4 Philadelphia catchers (Ruiz, Marson, D’Arnaud & Valle) starting in the majors at the same time.

    Obviously, this is the telling year for Ruiz & if he comes through, the “problem” will get even better.

  18. all great lucid points above although imo marson will be the starter for years. by the way i think ruiz is getting overlooked. although he had an abysmall 2008 regular season he would desired by many teams. look for a bounceback year. and yes nepp baseball reference is a great site.

  19. i am in the “good problem to have” camp. it is really fun to have this discussion. and a real turn around from the ed wade days where we had no prospect depth.

    i am a production guy. i value production (especially at the higher levels) over projection. i think too often people fall into the “grass is greener” approach. Not to switch sports, but a relevant example was when the eagles fans rooted for Kolb this season over McNabb. Perfect example of the fan’s psychology. It is always more fun to project the mystery guy. That being said, i am very impressed with Travis’s performance at Lakewood.

    Regarding Marson, i think that there is something special about him. I don’t worry about the lack of HRs. i think that will develop. to me, his hand-eye coordination at the plate is exceptional. he reminds me a lot of Jason Kendall. go back and compare Marson’s AA stats to Kendalls. Very similar. kendall never showed power in the minors but has had a great career and had a few good power years (for a catcher) in his mlb career. they have very similar athletic builds, although Lou is taller and heavier. like kendall, i could see Lou batting 2nd in his mlb career and being a high on base guy. i also think that his defense will be above average for mlb.

    travis is more of a scout’s prospect. he shows the tools. shows the power. but i don’t think that he will hit for the same average and ob% as marson.

    net, net, i think that they will both be mlb’ers (which is great for the phils). and teams will have to decide, which they want more. a high ob% guy or a power hitter.

    again, a great problem to have!!!

  20. Lou will absolutely be a starting major league catcher (but not this year). Travis will hopefully be a starting major league catcher. If they both have good years at their respective levels this year, that would be a great problem. In terms of a trade though, every team seems to have a catching prospect in BA who may or may not pan out. I found it interesting that Lou caught Moyer on the first day of practice this week with Moyer offering him instruction from a pitcher’s viewpoint. Moyer knows Lou can play.

  21. ****he reminds me a lot of Jason Kendall. go back and compare Marson’s AA stats to Kendalls. Very similar.****

    Kendall was very good till he got injured…that threw him off a few years. If Marson has as good a career as Kendall, then he will be a success.

  22. I’m definately taking D’Arnaud over Marson long term. Though still unproven, D’Arnaud looks like a 3, 4, 5, hitter in the order to me while Marson is a 2, 6, 7 hitter in the order. It was mention that D’Arnaud could switch positions. That would make things interesting down the line.

  23. Naughton has been mentioned, but behind him is Valle, he could be very good as he ages and fills out a little. I also think Marson gets wrongly demeaned for his ground ball swing. It is as much a line drive swing as a ground ball swing. A note to those who downgrade Marson because of the comments on the groundball swing — BA uses similar words to describe D’Arnaud’s swing: “He has a line-drive swing and gap power with a willingness to use the opposite field. D’Arnaud’s swing lacks natural loft, so he’s not expected to hit for a lot of power”. As with Marson, I don’t really care. Most catchers aren’t Bench. A high obp and line drive power will suffice. Incidentally, BA suggests that D’Arnaud needs considerable work on his D: “He threw out just 19 percent of basestealers and committed 16 passed balls in 2008, numbers that don’t square with the scouting reports. Phillies officials believe he just needs to gain experience with the speed of the game at the pro level”. So … the D’Arnaud defense at this point is as much raw undeveloped skills as it is actual performance. It seems to be just the opposite assessment of Marson by BA, noting that he threw out 37% of basestealers, but “most big league catchers have better arms than Marson, whose grades out (sic) as fringe average. He compensates with accuracy and quick transfers … but he can’t afford to lose any ar strength. He needs work calling games and setting up hitters”. I think that last knock relates to the weird philosophy of last season’s Reading manager/staff.

  24. the phillies should NOT switch D’Arnaud’s position. if you have a premium position player, you don’t move him to a new position. you trade him if he is blocked. 90% of the teams out there would love a top catching prospect. they are rarely moved, but when they are, they command a very high price.

  25. PP Fan (and anyone else who mentioned the same thing):

    I am with you 100% about not changing D’Arnaud’s position. According to scouting reports, he’s got all the skills that you want in a catcher. Switching him would hurt his value IMO

    – Jeff

  26. What a problem. Maybe 4 identified better catching prospects with one of them hitting lefty.

    This season at AAA LV should show us more about Lou. His ground ball hitting tendencies should and will draw the attention of his coaches, beginning at the ML level during spring training. Fixing that would give a double benefit: fewer GIDPss and more loft for HRs.

    Should all that take place–I wouldn’t bet against it–Marson with the benefit of better OBA & the better stroking at the plate would have a big edge because his defensive tools right now exceed TDs who had a bevy of passed balls last season despite great other progress, and he might be an “established” MLer for two years before TD comes up.

    Another factor: Marson has endeared himself to the Phils by his substantial progress in handling his pitchers in-game over the last two seasons especially. IMO that was one of the large reasons they had him sitting on the bench during the playoffs.

    TD seems very promising but there are too many “incompletes” on his scorecard now, but he has come on strong in ’08.

    2009s season should reveal a lot more about both of them…a fun time for US as voyeurs.

    There’s a lot to like in both…and then there’s two others………….

  27. Considering the teams stance on Ruiz the judgemental ‘handling of pitchers’ seems to hold a lot of weight with the Phillies.

  28. ****TDs who had a bevy of passed balls last season despite great other progress****

    Not all of those passed balls were necessarily his fault so that number is a bit misleading. The Williamsport staff had a tendency towards wildness to say the least. He seemed pretty good at passed balls the few times I saw him play.

  29. Plus, a passed ball can involve a pitcher and catcher getting their signals crossed – which probably happens less frequently the more polished a player (both pitcher and catcher) gets.

  30. Last week, Charlie Manuel compared Lou Marson to Craig Biggio. I found this extremely interesting because as we all know, Biggio was eventually moved to the infield. Marson played 2B in high school and obviously has the arm for 3B. Might that eventually be a possible solution to what to do with D’Arnaud and Marson?

  31. Charlie must have a deep appreciation for Craig Biggio, because I believe he compared Jason Donald to Biggio in the past. A couple of Biggios cant be a bad thing.

  32. Anonymous Says
    His bat doesn’t play at 3rd at all.
    No one knows what his bat is since he is under 25 still developing. Can we not write him off just yet. He fits because he and Donald are steady and will be on base when the home runs are hit

  33. We could better write that to say “His bat doesn’t currently project to play at 3B as he has little to no power.” If he has a career half as good as Biggio he will have been a huge success.

  34. I think PECOTA is being a tad optimistic with that comparison for Marson. Granted their minor league numbers are similar but its no comparison whatsoever for Marson…unfortunately for him.

  35. Well I haven’t seen D’Arnaud though I hope to this year (provided he doesn’t skip over Clearwater), if he is as good as everyone says then I likely won’t see him in Clearwater, which is a bummer. I did get to see Marson, and he is certainly a solid citizen. My take, like that of others here, is that having “too many” good prospects at a position is a problem I won’t cry about.

  36. Agree, I think that Naughton has a better chance of being double jumped to AA with D’Arnaud starting in Clearwater.

  37. I’d just like to chime in that OBP is the most important hitting stat (well, except for RBI…ha) and Marson’s has improved with each level (.343 A-, .373 A+, .433 AA). His OBP has also always been around 100 points higher than his BA, another good sign. A .433 OBP at AA is something to write home about. The probability that Marson becomes a productive major leaguer is much higher and I would take him every day of the week.

    By the way, TD turned 20 last week, happy belated b-day to Travis!

  38. Well D’Arnaud has more upside if you’re looking on paper, but in no way shape or form will the phillies pass him over marson at this point. Marson is basically ready for the majors and is playing while D’Arnaud at only 20 is still 3-4 years away. By the time he is ready they’ll already know if Marson has worked out or not. There really isn’t any competition between the two. And also the way the phils lineup is set for the next 3 years there really is no need for an offensive catcher batting 7th or 8th. Ruiz is one of the best out there defensively which is why he’s their guy.

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