When the season started for the Toronto Blue Jays, there were a lot of doubts about whether J.P. Arencibia could fulfill the starting catching duties for the team.
The press were saying that he wasn’t defensively proficient and that his game calling wasn’t up to par. In the offseason, several moves were made involving catchers, and it looked like they might keep a second veteran around for insurance.
When Spring Training came around, Arencibia was working so hard on his defense that his bat was suddenly struggling. That put even more pressure on the rookie, suggesting that if he couldn’t even come through on his biggest strength, then he wasn’t going to make it as a starter.
At first, the season began and you didn’t really notice him. He would come up with the occasional hit and do his duties behind the plate. But then if you were really paying attention, you might realize that not noticing him meant good things.
Arencibia wasn’t letting wild pitches fly by him, he wasn’t getting the pitchers to shake off a lot of signs and he was casually throwing out a decent amount of base runners. Suddenly, all those doubts about his defensive abilities start to go out the window.
Arencibia is surrounded by people with great catching knowledge. Jose Molina is generally considered one of the best defensive catchers around, and he is an active mentor, always willing to share his wealth of knowledge.
Don Wakamatsu, a former manager and catcher and current bench coach, also has worked with him, sharing tips that perhaps Arencibia hasn’t heard in his progression through the minors.
Arencibia has also earned the respect of the pitching staff by calling a strong game and settling them down when needed. His work in this area provoked John Farrell to expand his duties, having him add a fourth pitcher in Kyle Drabek.
There are always growing pains, of course, Arencibia is still a rookie and the two errors and three passed balls might be evidence of that.
None of his defensive statistics really stand out, but that is neither in a good way or bad way. For a rookie catcher who was said to have defensive failures, middle of the pack will do just fine.
It wasn’t Arencibia’s work behind the plate though that earned him several awards, including MVP, in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year; it was his outstanding bat.
When Arencibia is at the plate, he has proven to have a good eye, showing patience by averaging a surprising 3.85 pitches per plate appearance.
It hasn’t always worked out for him, both his walks and average are middle of the pack, and he has struck out at a high rate. But he is connecting, and when he does, he is hitting it hard and far.
Right now, Arencibia is tied for first among catchers with eight home runs, tied for sixth in doubles with seven, fifth in RBI with 23 and second in total bases with 67.
Also, if you only count catchers who have had more than 50 at bats, he is third in slugging percentage. He is also third on the Blue Jays in RBI, trailing only Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.
But catchers are rarely known for being offensive leaders of their respective teams, with the exception of Joe Mauer and perhaps a few others.
So how is Arencibia doing is regards to his fellow rookies?
He is first in home runs, second in RBI, fourth in hits, fifth in doubles, fifth in walks, first in slugging percentage, first in extra-base hits, second in total bases and fourth in runs created.
Those are certainly some impressive numbers.
There are always areas in which any player can improve, especially rookies, but at this point, no one is suggesting Arencibia isn’t ready any more.