Who: J.P. Arencibia, No. 9. Catcher, tweeter, ESPN analyst impersonator, owner of Yogi the Dog and the hearts of the Jays’ female fans. 6’1, listed at 210 LBS. 26 years old.
Provenance: Miami, brah. Drafted out of the University of Tennessee in 2007.
Tao-Approved Nicknames: JPA. We’re sure there are a plenitude of other nicknames for him in which the gals compound some sugary-sweet substance and particular body parts, but we’ll leave those for you all to find on your own.
History: One full MLB campaign plus a cup of coffee, 140 games over those two seasons with Toronto.
Contract Status: Agreed to a one-year, $417,400 contract before the 2011 season. 2012 contract still pending. Achieves arbitration eligibility after the 2013 season.
Career Stats: .213 AVG, .275 OBP, .431 SLG, .706 OPS in 523 plate appearances. 25 homers, 82 RBI.
One Rate Stat and One Counting Stat: Among catchers with 450 plate appearances or more in 2011, Arencibia ranked first in isolated power (.219). On the other hand, he ranked 11th out of 15 in runs scored among that group.
Looking Back: For a young catcher in his first full year as a big leaguer, getting through the year mostly intact is half the battle. On that level, J.P. Arencibia had a very commendable 2011 season.
More often than not, young catchers are eased into their first full-time gig with a club, but Arencibia acquitted himself quite well, taking the starting job from the beginning of the year and showing an ability to handle all aspects of the job with aplomb. To our eyes, he improved his receiving skills, quieting him body as he crouched, though we’d still like to see him set a better target for his pitchers. (We’re probably seriously out of our depth in discussing this, but we caught a few games in mosquito league ball, so we’ll throw this out there and see if it sticks.)
Given the importance of the catcher’s role to the pitching staff, any offensive performance from a rookie catcher has to be considered a nice throw-in. However, Arencibia’s bat has always been his calling card, and his offensive output was likely going to be scrutinized more than your typical young backstop. And last year was a bit of a mixed bag on that level, with Arencibia posting the seventh highest slugging percentage (.438) among the group of 15 catchers mentioned above, but also the second-lowest on-base percentage (.282). He also had the second highest strikeout rate (27.4 %) in that group, and did little to offset the whiffs by walking just 7.4% of the time.
Looking Forward: If you like taters, dingers, bombs, long balls and other big flies, then JPA is probably your sort of guy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Getting yourself around the bases with one swing of the bat is a commendable attribute.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that Arencibia’s power shouldn’t completely overshadow the fact that his bat wouldn’t play anywhere else on the diamond at this point. He’s a good offensive weapon…for a catcher. Arencibia’s minor league numbers show a .319 OBP over four seasons, including one PCL-inflated .359 mark in 2010.
It’s hard to imagine that his major league OBP would get that far above .300 any time soon, but so long as he’s still a decent catcher and he’s hitting jacks, he’ll continue to be a decent option in the bottom half of the lineup.
2012 Expectations: JPA has quickly become a fan favourite for a whole host of reasons, from his newfound love of hockey to his willingness to cart his arse to every city, town and region of our vast land in the middle of winter to promote the team. Such things buy a guy a lot of capital in the hearts and minds.
But throughout 2012, expect to hear the footsteps of top prospect Travis d’Arnaud sneaking up on Arencibia, especially if his PCL numbers look as gaudy as some of the others we’ve seen come across the ticker from Las Vegas recently. Even if d’Arnaud pushes this season, we’d imagine that the Jays will continue to have a use for this year and next, but expect that by 2014, a choice is going to have to be made between the two.
Is this a challenge that Arencibia can embrace? How much more room does he have until he hits his offensive ceiling? Our guess is that he’ll post some marginal improvements in his on-base and strikeout rates, but the power numbers could go in either direction. All told, an OPS in the mid-.700’s would be a reasonably hopeful probability.
(Picture snagged from JPA's Twitter homepage. Adorbs!)