The watchful eyes of Blue Jays fans are focused on the pitching staff, waiting to learn who will fill out the rotation for the season, or wondering who might make the next attempt at a no-hitter or strikeout record. However, the player with the biggest impact on that staff won't even be taking the mound.
After three full seasons in the minor leagues and earning Pacific Coast League MVP honours last year, J.P. Arencibia is ready to step up to the plate, or rather behind the plate, for Toronto.
For the first time, the 25-year-old is at spring training in Dunedin, Fla., knowing he has a job in the majors going into the regular season.
"It's awesome," Arencibia said, before a morning workout at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "It's definitely a different feeling because now I just know I can come and get to work and just get ready ultimately for April 1, not for tomorrow or the day after. I'm just really preparing to get ready for the season."
The book on J.P. Arencibia
- Age: 25
- Hometown: Miami, Fla.
- Position: Catcher
- Height: 6-foot-1
- Weight: 210 pounds
- MLB seasons: Parts of three
- Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (2009 - present)
- Games (career): 11
- Home runs: 2
- RBIs: 4
- Stolen bases: 0
Without the threat of competition for his job, the young backstop is more comfortable in his role with the team, but is still motivated to work harder.
"There's a lot more preparation and there are a lot more things involved when you're the guy," he said. "Ultimately the whole pitching staff is your responsibility."
Arencibia is ready to take on that responsibility and to take advantage of the opportunity that he has with Toronto. Helping him are two veteran catchers in Jose Molina and off-season acquisition Don Wakamatsu, the team's new bench coach.
"Me and [Wakamatsu] have hit it off pretty well, as far as him being able to really have a huge influence on how much improvement I've been making," Arencibia said. "And Jose's big, too. A big part of my improvement in throwing has been with Jose. They've both been great."
Wakamatsu, the former Seattle Mariners manager, has been working with Arencibia on prioritizing, and defining his responsibilities, with defensive skills being at the top of that list.
'It's a daunting task, but he's a very talented young player and he's highly motivated.' — Blue Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu on Arencibia
"We know he can hit, but we have to make sure that, number one, we have to get our pitching staff to throw well and he's a big part of that," Wakamatsu said. "If you categorize it, defence is going to be his number one thing."
With the amount of physical strain a catcher takes on during a season, along with calling games and taking care of a pitching staff, the job behind the plate is the toughest on the field. Wakamatsu has been taking time out this spring to help Arencibia with the mental side of the game, and thinks he's ready to take on the assignment.
"It's a daunting task, but he's a very talented young player and he's highly motivated," the bench coach said.
Though the Jays' newest backstop seemingly has a long road ahead of him, he doesn't feel too much pressure behind the plate, nor does he think he has to live up to what he did at the plate in his historic debut last August.
In his first game, Arencibia not only knocked the first major league pitch he ever saw out of the park, but he also became just the second player in the history of the game to have two home runs and four hits in their first big league appearance.
"I'm not big on pressure," Arencibia said. "I feel like if you're prepared, then you're prepared for it. I felt like I was prepared for the opportunity in the big leagues and I took advantage of it."
Though he only recorded one hit in the 30 at-bats that followed, and hasn't been getting enough at-bats so far at camp to know what he might really be capable of, Blue Jays rookie manager John Farrell has plenty of confidence in Arencibia. After all, the young catcher recorded a total of 82 home runs in his three professional seasons with the organization.
"We feel he's going to hit and he's got a good swing," Farrell said. "However, there have been some times early in camp where he hasn't quite gotten started on time, or his timing has been a little bit off. But I think he knows that we're committing to him and to trust that and trust his abilities to go out and just let his abilities play."
Time will tell what the Miami native is truly capable of with his bat and how much he's improved defensively. But for now Arencibia is just happy to be with the ball club, soaking it all in and enjoying every minute of it.
"Just being able to be a part of something special that people dream about doing and something I've grown up dreaming about," he said. "I feel like we have a very good team and this is the start of something special. I'm pretty exciting to be a part of it."