Arencibia catching the wave

(Reuters files)

(Reuters files)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:13 PM ET

DUNEDIN — Everybody raves about the Blue Jays’ young pitching, nobody more loudly than the rookie catcher whose job it will be to get the most out of all those valuable arms.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” bubbles J.P. Arencibia. “I’m excited about just being a part of this. I played with Ricky (Romero) coming up. Zep (Marc Rzepczynski) and (Brett) Cecil and I signed at the same time. I’ve gotten to play with (Kyle) Drabek now. Even though we’re all young, we’re going to have a real good staff.”

This is a serious challenge for Arencibia, who did not get the kind of audition that was expected when he was summoned to Toronto in August after tearing it up in the Pacific Coast League.

After his debut for the ages (4-for-5, homers, four RBIs), Arencibia played sparingly, then was sent back to Las Vegas for the last two weeks of August, returning on Sept. 1. In all, he was 5-for-35, with four of those hits coming in his first game.

For manager John Farrell, Arencibia has a clean slate and he’ll be watching carefully all spring.

“I want to see an ability to balance both sides of the game,” said Farrell. “What I mean by that is he’s going to go through times when he’s challenged at the plate. We want to be sure that that’s not going to affect the calling of the game and the leading of the pitching staff.”

Arencibia is already determined to find that defensive mindset. When asked about goals for the season, he answered immediately.

“Putting a zero up every inning against the other team’s name,” he said. “For me, all I’m concerned about is leading the staff and handling these guys and make them the best they can be when they’re out there. Offence is secondary. I’ve always been a hitter. It’s going to be there.”

Farrell isn’t pretending this is going to be easy or that there won’t be some serious bumps along the way.

“(Arencibia’s) learning curve is steep,” said Farrell. “He’s getting a lot thrown at him but he’s a smart kid. His passion is undeniable and he’s going to be the kind of guy that pitchers will attach to because he’ll make them know he cares about them, as well.”

This is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, always moving, always chattering, having fun, exuding energy, challenging the room to be better.

“I’m a very positive person,” he said. “People feed off the way you are. This game can get into your head. It’s a game of failure, sure, but I try not to let it get to me that way.

“I mean there’s baseball and there’s life. I recently visited a hospice for kids. Think about that. In the grand scheme of things, striking out with the bases loaded is not the worst thing that can happen to you.”

It’s not hard to project this Blue Jays pitching staff as a major force in this team’s future. What’s difficult is figuring out how good they are going to be, right now. Talent and enthusiasm only go so far. Young pitchers often lack the experience to deal with adversity.

Likewise for young catchers, upon whose shoulders so much is thrust.

Arencibia is already leaning on teammate Jose Molina, whose backup catching duties are almost secondary to his mentoring duties with Arencibia and the other young catchers.

“I could sit hear and talk all day about what a great person he is,” said Arencibia of Molina. “To go along with that, he’s a student of the game and a teacher of the game. He makes me want to be a better catcher, just by the way he goes about things. For me, it’s huge to have somebody like that in my corner.”

As a young catcher trying to find his way through the booby-trapped maze of his first long major-league season, Arencibia knows there will be times when the advice of a sage like Molina becomes invaluable.

“You try to learn from your mistakes,” he said. “If you listen to the older guys who have gone through it, you can bounce back quicker. They are telling us these things because they’ve gone through it themselves and they want you to be able to bridge that gap a little more quickly.”

ken.fidlin@sunmedia.ca


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