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Blue Jays confident Arencibia will find groove

Blue Jays confident Arencibia will find groove

Blue Jays confident Arencibia will find groove
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are planning to live through the ups and downs of J.P. Arencibia's rookie season in the Major Leagues.

Arencibia is set to become Toronto's No. 1 catcher, following a season in which he was named MVP of the Pacific Coast League while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas.

With nothing left to prove in the Minor Leagues, the club feels it is time for Arencibia to take the next step. Even if positive results don't follow right away, general manager Alex Anthopoulos says that won't change the team's stance.

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"J.P. is going to get a lot of opportunities, and he's going to get a lot of rope," Anthopoulos said. "That's just part of our commitment to him, and [part of that is] him not having to look over his shoulder and worry about having a bad day defensively [or] having a bad day offensively. We're going to stick with him, and we're going to give him an extended look."

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Arencibia has gotten off to a slow start with the bat during Spring Training. He is hitting just .140 with one extra-base hit and one RBI in 43 at-bats. Anthopoulos described those early numbers as "irrelevant," adding that even if they carry over to the regular season, the team isn't going to put much stock into it.

That is partially because Arencibia has hit at every level. During his early playing days, he tied Alex Rodriguez's home run record at Westminster Christian High School in Miami. In college, he hit .330 during his three-year career at the University of Tennessee.

Last season in Triple-A, Arencibia hit .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBIs. It's a proven track record, and the Blue Jays are willing to give Arencibia time to see whether he can carry it over to the Major Leagues.

Anthopoulos used second baseman Aaron Hill as the prime example of how, at times, patience is required from the organization. During his first full season in the Major Leagues, Hill batted just .186 over his first 36 games. Toronto stuck with him that year, and Hill ended up hitting .320 the rest of the 2006 season.

For Toronto's GM, the deciding factor is monitoring the confidence and attitude the player carries during any period of prolonged slumps.

"[Hill] did not walk around like a guy hitting .180; [he] didn't lose confidence," Anthopoulos said. "[He] still was having quality at-bats [and] hitting some balls hard, and he didn't get down on himself.

"It's not always the numbers. It's the quality of the at-bats; it's the way they're handling themselves day in and day out, their demeanor, [their] confidence -- all of those things. It's a delicate thing; it's something you have to evaluate. You rely on your coaches and your staff. It's more of a feel than anything else."

Blue Jays manager John Farrell feels his club can afford to live with Arencibia's potential struggles at the plate because of the depth of its lineup. Last season, Toronto ranked first in the Major Leagues with 257 home runs and sixth in the American League with 755 runs scored.

Even though the club lost All-Stars Vernon Wells and John Buck, it's still a batting order that is expected to get production from the Nos. 1 through 8 spots. Arencibia is expected to open the season in the No. 9 spot, which should eliminate any added pressure on the 25-year-old needing to provide early power production.

"The one thing that we continually talk with J.P. about is that there are going to be situations in the game where a productive out is going to be a contribution," Farrell said. "Whether that's a sac bunt, whether that's a hit-and-run, rather than just looking to drive the ball out of the ballpark."

"Those are things [for which] Arencibia will find himself being asked to control the bat a little bit to give a productive out. ... That's all part of transitioning [to] being an everyday player."

The biggest question mark coming into Spring Training wasn't about Arencibia's offense; it was about his defense. That's one area where the initial reviews have been positive.

Arencibia entered camp with a tendency to reach out at the ball when he was catching, instead of letting it come to him. That caused him to receive the ball further out in front of his body. As a result, balls with late movement occasionally bounced off his glove, and it also gave the illusion of pitches being out of the strike zone.

Arencibia has worked with bench coach and former catcher Don Wakamatsu to address the problem. The changes have made him more relaxed behind the plate, which, according to Farrell, has also made him more aware of pitch selection and reading the swings of the opposing hitters.

With so many added responsibilities, Arencibia runs the risk of being overwhelmed with the workload. When young players are struggling offensively, they are sometimes prone to carrying that onto the field.

That's something Farrell says Arencibia has done a great job of avoiding so far.

"That might be the case if we weren't seeing the advances behind the plate," Farrell said. "So he is separating those out, and he's doing a very good job of that. There has been a lot that has been thrown at him, in terms of the game calling, the defensive side of it and getting to know the pitchers he's calling more regularly.

"So he is separating that out, and that's more of a sign of maturity. He's our guy; we're going to stand with that and continue to work towards getting that consistency at the plate."

After spending the past four years in the Minors, Arencibia appears set to continue his progression at the next level, regardless of the initial results.

"There's a great deal of development that goes on at the big league level," Anthopoulos said. "We expect him to do his job behind the plate [and] continue to get better, unless he needs to go back down there. He's done everything he can down there. At some point, he needs to get the growing pains out of the way in Toronto."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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