Jays standing behind catcher Arencibia
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
|Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia makes a catch during practice at the Jays' spring training facility in Dunedin Florida, February 24, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Spring training games usually mean squat but to date the weakest link in the Blue Jays lineup appears to be the bat of rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.
Arencibia, who hits from the right side, made a spectacular debut in his first major league game last season when on Aug. 7 against the Rays, he had four hits, including two home runs. In his final 10 games with the Jays last year, though, he went just 1-for-30.
This spring he has continued to struggle at the plate. In parts of 16 games, including Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Twins where he was 1-for-2, he is hitting all of 140. (6-for-43) with just one extra base hit (a double) and one RBI.
Arencibia, however, has shown he can hit at every level he has played in the minor leagues, and hit for power.
This spring, the Jays told him to work on his defensive duties and he has done that and shown great improvement behind the plate, perhaps to the detriment of his hitting.
In any event, the Jays say they are discounting what has happened in the box this spring and will give him a long leash once the season starts.
They want to stress that there will be no pressure for him to perform, that it won’t be a case of them looking to ship him to the minors if he struggles through the opening two months.
“Spring training is irrelevant for me with the value that we place on game-calling at that position,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said regarding Arencibia’s poor hitting. “With young players, you know it’s going to take a little bit of time and you have to stick with them for a while.
“We need to stick with them (young players) for a certain amount of time. But if you feel like you’re getting to a point where they’re drowning it’s better to get them out of here to clear their heads. I think that happened with Travis Snider a few years ago.”
The Jays have a capable backup in veteran Joe Molina and he will be back of the plate for each and every Brandon Morrow start. If rookie Kyle Drabek makes the team, manager John Farrell said that Molina would catch his starts too. That means that Arencibia would be needed three days out of five or about 95 games this season.
If Arencibia shows that he is progressing defensively — and he has made strides during this camp — the need for him to hold his own at the plate will diminish.
“As long as you feel like you’re not hurting his development, that you’re helping (then there’s no need to ship him out,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s not someone that we’re counting on to hit in the middle of the order this year. He’s someone that we expect to do his job behind the plate and continue to get better.
“He’s done everything he can down there (in the minors). At some point he needs to get the growing pains out of the way up in Toronto.”
Right now, the Jays don’t have a Plan B if Arencibia is a complete flop as they intend to give him plenty of time to succeed.
“J.P.’s going to get a lot of opportunity, a lot of rope,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s part of our commitment to him and not have him looking over his shoulder and worrying about having a bad day. We’re going to stick with him and give him an extended look.”
The Jays expect to field a lineup that supplies capable hitting and power in the other slots which reduces the pressure on Arencibia that much more.
“What would be nice for him is for him to feel good about his approach at the plate and the swing that he’s putting on balls,” Farrell said, adding that he isn’t seeing any signs that Arencibia is pressing.
Arencibia entered this camp as the player with one of the biggest responsibilities and the most to learn. It’s a process that will continue through the season and one the Jays are prepared to live with.