It’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride for Toronto Blue Jays incumbent catcher J.P. Arencibia this off season. In an attempt to be contenders in the tough American League East, the Toronto front office has been wheeling and dealing all winter, and Arencibia’s future north of the border has been somewhat in limbo.
When Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos pulled off that blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins to gain the services of Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, it would have made sense to ship Arencibia, a South Florida native, back home to gear up in Little Havana. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, on December 16, Anthopoulos dealt Buck and another catcher, highly regarded prospect Travis d’Arnaud, to the New York Mets as part of another mega-swap to obtain Cy Young-award winner R.A. Dickey. Arencibia, a home-grown Blue Jay, would stay behind the dish with the club and inherit an all-star pitching staff.
“This is so exciting,” crowed the likeable Cuban-American. “I told Alex that I’m ready to start spring training right now.”
Jonathan Paul Arencibia is the grandson of Cuban immigrants and was raised primarily by his mother, Irene, who came to America when she was two years old. Arencibia was a three-sport athlete at Westminister Christian High outside Miami, the same school that produced Alex Rodriguez, although that’s probably the only thing the pair have in common. While A-Rod likes the night club scene and is known to be a womanizer, J.P. is single, enjoys country music and prefers to hang out with his dog, Yogi. His easy-going lifestyle would seem to stem from his days as a collegiate star at the University of Tennessee, located in a state where the laid-back pace can be contagious. Toronto selected Arencibia as an All-American Vol in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft, and he currently lives in Nashville where he can get away from the glitter and distractions of Miami.
Despite J.P.’s carefree personality (he does a terrific voice impersonation of ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian), the guy is a hard-working and driven receiver whose defensive skills have steadily improved. So, even though Dickey’s personal catcher, Josh Thole, was a throw-in with the Mets deal, Arencibia will be meeting with the veteran knuckleball specialist prior to camp.
“We both live in Nashville, so why not get started early,” J.P. reasons. “I know there’s a lot I can learn from him.”
That said, it’s likely that Arencibia will get a break from the tortures of Dickey’s dancing pitch every fifth day, allowing more time to concentrate what he does best, which would be hitting the baseball. J.P. has been criticized for his uppercut swing and high strikeout ratio, and his overall numbers at the plate over two big league seasons are certainly not astonishing. But nobody can argue about the remarkable spurts of power generated by the 6′- 1″, 210-pound slugger.
During his first cup of coffee with the Blue Jays in August of 2010, Arencibia hit a bomb off James Shields enroute to a two-homer, 4-for-4 night against the Tampa Bay Rays. The day before, he purchased a plane ticket for his mom, Irene, to be at the game.
“I was in tears,” she recalls. “I was so proud of Jonathan.”
Arencibia seems to have a flair for the dramatic on opening day as well. He kicked off the season in 2011 with another pair of homers and a two-run triple to humble the Minnesota Twins. And for an encore last season, he hit a tie-breaking, 16th-inning blast against the Cleveland Indians. In his rookie season, J.P. hammered 23 big flys and last year he hit 18 more, despite missing about 100 at-bats while on the DL with a broken hand.
Arencibia seemed both relaxed and grateful while visiting his mom, sister and her six children during Christmas. He talked about how much respect he had for the Blue Jays organization and his joy to be a big part of the team.
“They’ve been nothing but honest with me, and that’s a great feeling,” admits J.P., who will turn 27 in a few days. “As a player, I think it shows the class of people you work with, and it makes me want to go the extra distance for them.”
From the Blue Jays prospective comes positive vibes as well.
“We believe in J.P.”, notes GM Anthopoulos.