New technique paid dividends for Arencibia

New technique paid dividends for Arencibia

New technique paid dividends for Arencibia
TORONTO -- J.P. Arencibia arrived at the Major League level with the reputation of being a blossoming offensive talent.

The 25-year-old catcher was known more for his performance in the batter's box than his work behind the plate, but it was a notion he set out to change in 2011.

Arencibia spent most of the year talking about the defensive aspects of the game for as long as anyone would listen. It was a work in progress during his first full season in the big leagues, but he's pleased with the final results.

"It's about being able to understand the opposing hitters and understand our pitchers better," Arencibia said at the end of the year. "Obviously anybody can sit back there and call a game, but it's about execution and it's about really knowing the hitters, your pitcher and being able to match those up. I think my game calling has always been there, it's just about learning the guys around the league."

Arencibia has spent most of his life as a catcher, and the overall learning curve isn't exactly a new experience, but the work in the Majors began in earnest during February, when he was united with bench coach Don Wakamatsu.

Wakamatsu, a former catcher, spent the vast majority of Spring Training working with Arencibia alongside veteran Jose Molina. The trio broke down Arencibia's mechanics and put an added emphasis on his ability to block balls in the dirt and throw runners out.

Arencibia was used to doing things one way for most of his career, so when presented with a new approach, it understandably took a little bit of time to kick in. Earlier in his playing days, Arencibia would bring his arm too far back while throwing to second base.


"I would say it was a difficult adjustment, just because when your body has done something for so long, it took until late in the season to get my body to where it reacts."
-- J.P. Arencibia

That increased the loading time and provided the runner with a better opportunity to steal. The goal was to have Arencibia load the throw without reaching as far back behind his body.

"I would say it was a difficult adjustment, just because when your body has done something for so long, it took until late in the season to get my body to where it reacts," said Arencibia, who ranked sixth among qualifying catchers in the American League by throwing out 24 percent of basestealers.

"Now it's not a thing I need to work on it as much. ... Now, in a game, my body just does what it needs to do."

Arencibia managed to appear in 122 games behind the plate despite suffering a dislocated left thumb in early June. He sat out an occasional game to rest the injury, but for the most part, he continued to play every day and successfully avoided a stint on the disabled list.

The Miami native was forced to wear a cast inside his glove for part of the year, but it was his offense that was impacted the most. Arencibia proceeded to hit just .159 in June, and while he's loathe to use the thumb as an excuse for the production, he did admit at the end of the season that it played a role.

"I'm a guy that I don't [want to] say, 'Hey I'm hurting,'" Arencibia said. "I don't like to not play, but the month I hit .150, I couldn't finish my swing.

"I've learned from that to maybe take a week off so I can get back into it and not hurt myself as much. I couldn't swing the bat. I could catch. I had a cast on out there, but once that went away, other than that month, that period, everything else was fine."


"Would I like to hit .300? Yeah. Am I a guy that thinks he can hit .300? Yeah. But it's about going out there and doing what I need to do to get that better average."
-- J.P. Arencibia

In Arencibia's first full season, he set the Blue Jays' franchise record for home runs by a catcher with 23. He also managed to post 20 doubles while driving in 78 runs, but at times, Arencibia struggled to get on base.

The former first-round pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft hit .219 with an on-base percentage of .275. It's an area where Arencibia feels he can experience more success, and previous history suggests he could be right.

Arencibia hit just .236 in his first year with Triple-A Las Vegas in 2009. The second year, he came back and hit .301 while adding 32 home runs and 85 RBIs en route to the MVP Award in the Pacific Coast League.

It's easier said than done to accomplish a similar feat at the big league level, but Arencibia believes he has the talent to get the job done in 2012.

"You just have to keep trying to learn -- learn more about the opposing pitchers. Next time around, I'm going to know a lot more about these guys and just go out there and do what I can do.

"Would I like to hit .300? Yeah. Am I a guy that thinks he can hit .300? Yeah. But it's about going out there and doing what I need to do to get that better average."

Arencibia will use the offseason to recover from the long grind while rebuilding some of the muscle mass that was lost during the grueling 162-game schedule.

The hands-on work with his fellow teammates will begin on a full-time basis in February. The learning curve won't be nearly as steep this time around, as Arencibia heads into the season with previous knowledge of how to handle the opposition and his own staff.

But despite an impressive rookie campaign, Arencibia is hesitant to call it a success.

"I'm not exactly happy, because at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is to be in the playoffs," Arencibia said. "That being said ... it has been a year where I've learned a lot. I've gained a lot of experience. I feel a lot more comfortable with the opposing teams in the American League.

"On a production side, I feel like I did a great job at being able to produce. On the catching side, I feel like I did a great job of learning all the pitchers with the game calling, the blocking. I feel like I progressed throughout the year, which is what you want to do."

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.