Friday, April 22, 2011

Arencibia Needs More Time

No, he doesn't need more time in the minors, but he needs more time behind the dish and at the plate in the majors.

J.P. was on a path to become the Jays main catcher for the 2010 season, but had a rough season in AAA Las Vegas in 2009. The Jays went out and signed John Buck and Jose Molina to catch last year and the tandem ended up overachieving expectations, particularly offensively.

Meanwhile in the minors, Arencibia began tearing up the Pacific Coast League. At age 24, repeating AAA, he produced a .301/.359/.626 slash line with 36 doubles, 32 homers, and a minor league career high 38 base on balls. Scouting reports always painted Arencibia as an "offensive-oriented catcher" which is a tough reputation to break. In 2010, it was reported that his offense began to shine while catching and calling a strong defensive game behind the plate.

With the offseason departure of John Buck the Jays were seemingly on the lookout for a starting catcher for 2011. Arencibia, even though he had a great ML debut, had a tough time hitting big league pitching (albeit in sparse opportunities). There were mentions of Russel Martin, A.J. Pierzynski, and even Rod Barajas as possible catchers and mentors for the young starters.

These options really confused me, especially after the Jays picked up the option on career backup, Jose Molina. Arencibia was a young catcher who needed to cut his teeth in the Show and Toronto was a perfect place for that to happen. The Jays, admittedly, are a team on the upswing and they could afford to have patience with a young backstop.

Along with new manager John Farrell, the Jays brought in a few new members of the coaching staff including bench manager Don Wakamatsu who had experience teaching the catching position. Wakamatsu was drafted in 1985 and played 12 seasons in minor league baseball (with a cup of coffee in the bigs) and is known for his great work with Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Arencibia has said that he feels much better while he is catching and he looks like it too. He has a strong arm and is getting better at framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt.

During Spring Training, Farrell said that he felt that catcher was a "two-man position." This meant that Arencibia would catch Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, and Jesse Litsch. Molina caught the others (Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo- Reyes) because of his success with Brandon Morrow a year earlier. Farrell, as a former big league pitcher, must believe in the idea of a pitcher-catcher "battery" because he held steady to that idea only once DH'ing J.P. on an "off-day." I am sure that John Buck could have caught Morrow just as successfully last year and I am also sure that Arencibia would be fine with catching Drabek and Reyes. The whole idea of a personal catcher just doesn't make sense to me.

That being said, Molina still is a useful backup, but he is just that. He is one of the worst hitters on the team and is getting time for no reason other than to follow the guidelines that were set out during the spring.

Arencibia, with the recent changes to the starting rotation should be given the chance to catch every starter (while being given acceptables off -days) becuase he is capable of being the future at the position. He is really only one of a few Blue Jays that are hitting above expectations at the moment (.289/.360/.622) and is sitting out games unnecessarily, in my opinion.