Arencibia ready to man backstop for Jays
Rookie catcher confident in ability to connect with pitching staff
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The future is now for rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.
After spending the past four seasons in the Minor Leagues, Arencibia has nothing left to prove at that level, and has been declared ready to take the next step in his career.
How quickly the 25-year-old is able to establish himself as the clear cut No. 1 option behind the plate remains to be seen, but the early reports from Blue Jays' Spring Training have been overwhelmingly positive.
"The first thing that impressed me was his work ethic," Blue Jays bench coach and former Major League catcher Don Wakamatsu said. "He understands where he is and where he needs to go. There are a lot of things we need to cover before we break [camp] but ... he's stayed extra time, he's worked extremely hard at everything he's doing.
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"He has a lot of the tools that make up a front line guy. The rest is just trying to expedite the learning curve."
Arencibia became a bit of an Internet sensation during the offseason for his approach to the social networking site Twitter. He kept fans up to date on his rigorous training program and coined the phrase "beast mode" to describe his daily approach to prepare for Spring Training.
The saying originated from the lettering on one of his jackets. It quickly caught on with teammates Ricky Romero and the since departed Vernon Wells, who frequently communicated with each other on Twitter about their regimens.
For Arencibia, "beast mode" went into effect while working out at Saddlebrook's Athlete Compound in West Chapel, Fla. He went through daily routines at the site, which features prominent players such as Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and Carlos Quentin as its clientele.
Arencibia spent time with a personal trainer to gain weight to prepare for the rigors of a 162-game season. He added nine pounds of muscle over his 2010 playing weight and claims to be in the best shape of his life.
Those long days extended into Spring Training, where he often arrives before 7 a.m. and is always one of the last people to leave the park. It's the type of work ethic that has caught the attention of both his teammates and the club's coaching staff.
With so much on his plate, his dedication won't guarantee any future success. But it's certainly a first step in the right direction.
"His learning curve is steep," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "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."
Arencibia rose through the ranks of Toronto's Minor League system with the reputation of being an offensive oriented catcher. Last year with Triple-A Las Vegas, he hit .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBIs en route an MVP Award in the Pacific Coast League.
There's little debate that it's his approach with the bat that has garnered the most attention throughout baseball. Arencibia is ranked No. 48 on MLB.com's list of Top 50 prospects, but his position likely would have been higher if not for a perceived weakness in his defensive capabilities.
That's a stereotype Arencibia is hoping to get rid of this season.
"Right now, what I'm concerned about is working with our pitchers to put a zero up on the board," Arencibia said. "I want to make our pitchers the best that they can be, every pitch, every out. My offensive stuff is secondary. I know I'll have my struggles but I have confidence in that area."
The Florida native spent the early stages of Spring Training working on his footwork behind the plate and improving his ability to block balls in the dirt. The skill set that will be monitored the closest, though, is his ability to lead the Blue Jays pitching staff.
Arencibia's chances for success in that area are heightened by his familiarity with the Blue Jays' roster. Toronto boasts one of the youngest rotations in the Major Leagues, and Arencibia already has experience catching the likes of Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and David Purcey.
He feels as though that type of background will help him make the adjustment faster than other rookie catchers who came before him.
"This has all been part of the plan because we've all come up together," Arencibia said. "I caught a lot of these guys from the [Class A] short season all the way through to the Major Leagues. It makes my job a lot easier because I've seen them grow and I know how they work. They're better pitchers now, and I think I'm a better catcher too."
Breaking into the Major Leagues is arguably more difficult for a backstop than any other player. Catchers have to worry about not only their offense and defensive mechanics, but must guide pitchers through every at-bat.
"You're involved in every pitch," Wakamatsu said. "That's the difference between working mechanically with a first baseman or an outfielder, you might not get a play for two or three innings. Here, you're involved right out of the shoot so you've got to really be careful. It's a slower adjustment because you're going in there catching guys throwing 97 miles per hour. I talk a lot about comfort level and confidence level, and what he's doing back there."
If there's one person who doesn't have any doubts about making the adjustment, it's Arencibia. For him, it's just another step on the path that he has been taking his whole career.
"I'm very big on being mentally strong," Arencibia said. "If you convince yourself that it's more than it is, you're going to be behind. But if you convince yourself that it's just something you've done your whole life, that's when you'll succeed. Now it's just a different part of it, a different aspect of it. It's life in the Major Leagues."