Age 27 is an important year in the life of a professional baseball player. Those on the cusp of stepping up often show what they true potential will amount to during the first of their peak years. These are the years when a team finally sees the return on their investment.
The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping that 2013 is when they start to see the fruits of their investment in catcher J.P. Arencibia.
Toronto management showed a lot of faith in Arencibia when they included top prospect Travis d’Arnaud as part of the R.A. Dickey trade, especially with Arencibia’s name floating out there for most of the winter leading up to that point. By keeping their incumbent catcher Alex Anthopoulos showed that the team believed that the backstop would be able to starting showing growth after a 2012 campaign that was in many ways a regression at the plate for Arencibia.
And by all accounts, it appears as though Arencibia is in a position to reward the Blue Jays for their faith in him.
First came the reports of Arencibia’s dedication to becoming a better defensive catcher and his desire to not sit out every fifth game due to Dickey needing a personal catcher. He spent the winter with Dickey in Nashville, Tennessee, working with Dickey, but doing so, as ESPN reported it, without the aid of a cup. That is a rather sizable commitment to bettering your craft, especially considering that involves catching the unpredictable knuckleball.
Arencibia has followed that offseason with a solid spring training. Through Friday’s match-up with Philadelphia, and with one final contest left on the spring schedule, Arencibia has been on fire. His solo home run off of Phillippe Aumont in the 5th inning Friday – the only run of the game – was fifth of the spring, tying him with Jose Bautista for the team lead. He also leads the team with a 1.380 OPS in 41 plate appearances during camp.
Now, you can take spring stats for what they are, an exhibition while pitchers are getting up to speed, but we also need to consider that Arencibia has never been a strong spring performer and that his competition grade was an 8.7 according to Baseball-Reference, meaning that he was facing pitchers between a Triple-A and Major League level for most of his appearances. It could just be a spring mirage, or it could be a sign that Arencibia is taking things to the next level.
Of course, part of that journey to the next level is going to involve making adjustments at the plate and improving his patience at the plate. For his career, Arencibia has walked just 56 times in 895 plate appearances, while striking out 252 times in that span. Unfortunately, his spring stats did not do much to counter that trend, as Arencibia struck out 12 times and walked just twice.
Still, as fans, we look for encouragement where we see it, and we are encouraged by the strides that Arencibia has made, both as a player and as a leader. We just hope that it is a sign of things to come, as Arencibia is a very important piece of this club for the foreseeable future.