Arencibia says last season was only the beginning

J.P. Arencibia stood in the clubhouse and glanced at a
television program that was ranking baseball’s top 10 catchers.

After only one full season in the major leagues, he feels he
already belongs in that class.

”I see myself in it right now. I don’t care what anyone has to
say,” Arencibia said. ”Not a lot of catchers have done what I’ve
done in my first year, and it’s only going to get better.”

The Toronto Blue Jays certainly hope Arencibia is right. An MVP
in the minor leagues, Arencibia hit 23 home runs in 2011 in his
first full season as a big leaguer. At 26 years old, he’s part of
Toronto’s attempt to surround slugger Jose Bautista with enough
talented hitters to make some headway in the AL East.

Arencibia was a first-round pick in the 2007 draft after a
terrific college career at Tennessee, and three years later he was
named MVP of the Pacific Coast League. He made his major league
debut in August 2010 against Tampa Bay, homering on the first pitch
of his first at-bat – part of a two-homer, four-hit day.

He played only 11 games with the Blue Jays that year, and in the
offseason, Toronto acquired Mike Napoli – another power hitter who
can play catcher. But the Blue Jays traded Napoli a few days later,
paving the way for Arencibia to take over the catching job.

And in 129 games last year, he put up impressive power numbers.
Only three rookie catchers (Mike Piazza, Earl Williams and Matt
Nokes) have hit more homers than Arenicibia, according to STATS,
LLC.

”We all knew he had the pop. It’s tough as a rookie. Nothing
can prepare you for it,” Blue Jays outfielder Eric Thames said.
”These guys are nasty, and it takes a while to adjust to it. He
did a great job for the year he put up.”

Arencibia said the most challenging part of the transition from
the minors was in the field, not in the batter’s box.

”I think the biggest thing is going out there and calling a
game. … Not watching it – doing it live,” he said. ”Hitting,
you have to learn all the guys, but I would say defensively, you’ve
got to learn your pitchers, you’ve got to learn the hitters in the
league, so I think that’s the biggest adjustment.”

Arencibia hit only .219 last year and struck out 133 times, but
he’s part of a group of younger catchers – all under 27 – who have
shown they can hit with power. Cleveland’s Carlos Santana hit 27
homers last year, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters hit 22 and Detroit’s
Alex Avila had 19. Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 16 and
Washington’s Wilson Ramos had 15.

Arencibia says he keeps an eye on other catchers when he has a
chance.

”I think definitely you look at guys around the league and you
see what they do,” he said. ”Everyone’s different, so you have to
be yourself, but it’s definitely something you look at.”

After an 81-81 season, the Blue Jays face the daunting task of
trying to overcome the New York Yankees, Boston and Tampa Bay in
their division. Bautista has emerged as one of the game’s top power
hitters, but Toronto needs production throughout the lineup.

The Blue Jays are looking forward to a full season from Brett
Lawrie, the 22-year-old third baseman who was impressive in his
first 43 big league games last year. Adam Lind and Edwin
Encarnacion can also provide power.

Arencibia hopes to take another step in his own development –
and help the team do the same.

”That experience – there’s nothing that takes the place of
being able to have that experience,” Arencibia said. ”I think a
year with the pitching staff, a year more around the league, is
going to be beneficial.”

NOTES: Blue Jays manager John Farrell said RHP Jesse Litsch is
being bothered by inflammation and soreness in his right shoulder.
”Right now he is no-throw for the next seven days,” Farrell said.
”Upon the examination, it did reveal and confirm that it was
inflammation – at least at this point, nothing structural.”