They say the early bird catches the worm. But maybe the early bird just catches.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ top catching prospect, J.P. Arencibia, was already settling into his Florida spring training digs well before the official “pitchers and catchers report” date and can’t wait to get to his second big league spring training at Dunedin.
“I wanted to be able to come out here and catch the pitchers and get used to them,” said Arencibia, who knew that many of the pitchers would already be in town working out at the complex. “It’s something that you want to do as a catcher because it’s touch to just go out there in a game situation and know exactly what each guy throws.”
A first-round pick by the Jays in 2007 (the 21st overall pick) out of Tennessee, Arencibia was the Jays’ top Minor League hitter last summer, his first full season, as he combined to hit .298 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs between Advanced A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, ranking 10th in the Minors in RBIs.
The 23-year-old, who is Miami-born and of Cuban descent, starred for the USA National Team as a college sophomore in 2006, helping lead that team to the gold medal in Cuba.
Though considered something of an “offense-minded” catcher, he’s been working hard on improving all aspects of his defense and has garnered praise for his arm, his game-calling and his agility behind the plate.
Entering his second big league spring training, he may be a longshot to break camp with the team but right now, looking at the Blue Jays’ catching situation, the heir apparent to the throne is probably not far off from his coronation.
The club has just one catcher on its 40-man roster, that being 33-year-old veteran Rod Barajas (who hit .249 for the Jays in 2008), after designating Curtis Thigpen for assignment this week when they added reliever Brian Burres off waivers from the Orioles. Thigpen, should he not be claimed, will likely be in camp as a non-roster player along with veterans Michael Barrett and Raul Chavez among others.
But it’s Arencibia’s development that will determine the timetable.
“I’m excited,” he said about heading into camp next week. “I was in camp last year so I kind of know what I’m getting into. I know to just be quiet and listen. That’s really the biggest thing, to go about my business and stay out of the way of these guys and listen to the veterans.”
He doesn’t have grandiose expectations of breaking camp with the big boys, but just wants to take advantage of every minute of it.
“My goal is just to have fun, to play the way I always play, loose and confident,” he said. “I don’t want to put any added pressure on because baseball is hard enough.”
GotMiLB caught up with J.P. as he was in the process of moving into his spring condo right on the beach (and is unbelievably jealous of his — and his roommate Travis Snider’s — proximity to her favorite restaurant, Frenchy’s) but he was willing to take a break to chat (and GotMiLB also tips her cap to amazing and legendary South Atlantic League photographer extraordinaire for the very cool picture!!!)
GOTMILB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
JPA: Winning the gold medal with the USA National Team in Cuba (in 2006). We were the first US team to win gold on Cuban soil. We had David Price and Pedro Alvarez. It was a pretty ridiculous team.
GOTMILB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
JPA: If I wasn’t playing baseball I’d probably still try to be in the game, maybe as an agent helping out kids. I’d still like to be a part of the game. Maybe I’d get a law degree.
GOTMILB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
JPA: I’m the best breakfast maker in the world. My specialty is egg-white omelets with everything in it. I do the flip, the pan flip in the air, the whole deal. At hotels and any place where they make their own omelets, I would watch the cooks flip. I’ve always been a ‘breakfast at night’ guy. I eat breakfast every time of day. After a few failed missions at the house I finally got good at it.
GOTMILB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
JPA: I love to golf. That’s my outlet if I’m struggling.
GOTMILB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
JPA: Am pretty athletic for a catcher.
GOTMILB: Who was your childhood crush?
JPA: Carmen Electra.
GOTMILB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
JPA: Tiger Woods, because he’s the best athlete in the world.
GOTMILB: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
JPA: Adam Sandler.
GOTMILB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
JPA: Trying to make the best of the negative parts of the game, the bus rides and travel.
GOTMILB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
JPA: Preparing yourself every day. You never ever know what it’s like to play every day until you do it.
GOTMILB: On your most recent club (the New Hampshire Fisher Cats), what was your favorite thing about playing there?
JPA: The atmosphere. I thought it was a great city and we got a good amount of fans for a game so it was fun to play there.
GOTMILB: What are the best and worst minor league promotions or visiting acts you’ve seen?
JPA: The best was Myron Noodleman. I would actually go to games in college just to watch him. The worst was the “crazy hot dog vendor” (in Reading).