In 2011, J.P. Arencibia dedicated himself to becoming the kind of catcher the Blue Jays expect him to be: A leader, a confident game manager and a guy worthy of the trust of all the pitchers on his staff.
He passed all those tests, not without the occasional bump in the road, with flying colors.
So, what’s up for 2012?
“The focus does not change,” Arencibia said. “My job is that pitching staff. My hitting is going to be there. I’ve never been worried about that part of my game.”
Arencibia hit 23 home runs and drove in 78, but his on-base percentage languished at .282. In four previous minor-league seasons, Arencibia hit for a better average (.275) with a .319 OBP. That part of his game will take a back seat.
“For me, last year I learned how to manage a game, learning about my staff, learning about my opponents not from video but in real game situations. Now I come in this year, knowing what’s ahead of me, the guys we are facing, the pitchers I’ll be working with.
“I learned a lot but there’s still more to learn, more ways I can get better results out of each and every pitcher. I’ve always been motivated at this time of year but I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as fired up as I am this year.”
The source of Arencibia’s enthusiasm is the potential he sees in his teammates and the collective ability to move the intensity dial up a notch and into contention.
Manager John Farrell sees Arencibia’s growth as a leader of the pitching staff as a sign the team is moving forward.
“There was a lot on his plate last year,” Farrell said. “When you take a first-year guy and entrust him with running a staff, running a game, yet he was still able to deliver productively on offence, he became part of the core of this team. His personality rubbed off on our club’s personality: A relentless approach. He’s a big part of what we’re doing here.”
MEDICAL EXAMS ON DECK
Blue Jays pitchers and catchers will undergo medical exams on Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning and then head to the Bobby Mattick Complex for the team’s first official workout on Wednesday at noon.
A significant block of players has been in camp for at least the past two weeks, participating in voluntary hitting and throwing workouts most weekdays.
“It’s been an outstanding week leading up to spring training,” manager John Farrell said.
“Today, we had 35 guys here who have reported early. The excitement that we sense within the organization has filtered down to the group. They’re eager to get to work.
“They’ve all done a great job of committing to their off-season program. Guys are here in very good shape.”
Of the 33 pitchers and seven catchers scheduled to begin camp tomorrow, there is only one player who is being supervised medically.
“Trystan Magnuson is a guy we’re going to have to monitor,” Farrell said. “He has a little bit of a shoulder issue. We’ll have to be careful about how much he’s going to be able to tolerate in the early going. Other than that, there is no one with any issues.”
Magnuson, a relief pitcher from Vancouver is a nephew of the late Keith Magnuson, a former NHL defenceman. Magnuson was drafted by the Jays in 2007, then traded to Oakland. He was traded back to Toronto last November.
Non-roster invitee pitcher Garrett Mock, previously in the Washington Nationals chain, has been cut. Mock was signed to a minor-league deal in December. The Jays have added another non-roster invitee, pending a physical, in pitcher Rick VandenHurk, recently cut loose by Baltimore.
THAMES REWORKS THROW
Eric Thames, who will spend spring training in competition with Travis Snider for the starting job in left field, wants to leave no stone unturned in his quest to be a big-league regular.
Toward that end, Thames spent the winter addressing one of his weaknesses, a poor throwing arm.
“It was just a case of me looking in the mirror and asking myself what I really need to work on so that I can leave no doubt and no regrets,” he said Tuesday.
“I actually used to throw harder in high school than I do now. As I got bigger, my arm got tighter so I didn’t have that whip. I’ve always been a little frustrated when you see a guy like Chris Sale (White Sox relief pitcher), just a little skinny guy who throws 100 (m.p.h.). If you look at pictures, you can see how far back behind his shoulder the ball is to get that whip effect.
“So that’s what I’ve been doing, trying to use those pitching mechanics to try get that whip effect. I’m seeing a huge difference in combination with those mechanics and by laying off my chest exercises. I haven’t done any chest work in about eight months because the tighter I get (through the chest) I’m always pulling off the ball. Also, that tight chest affects my swing and it starts to get really long and my arms can’t get down where they need to be.
“Now I feel like I have perfect balance between the yoga and my weight lifting and I’m feeling much stronger but still loose enough.”
JAYS WON’T RUSH LAWRIE
While the temptation might be here to put Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista into the 3-4 slots in the Blue Jays batting order, don’t expect to see it right from the get-go this year.
“I think at the start of the season that Brett will still be in that 6-7 area in the order,” manager John Farrell said. “That¹s not to say that in time he doesn’t migrate north but we’re just looking forward to having him in the lineup from Day 1.”
The point would seem obvious that, at 22 and with less than two months in the bigs, Lawrie doesn’t need any added pressure. He’ll be a middle-of-the-order bat soon enough.
“As much as we seek consistency in the batting order,” Farrell said, “there are going to be changes. Guys are going to go through performance ebbs and flows, some matchups are going to steer us in different directions.”