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Top Catching Prospect J.P. Arencibia Called Up by Toronto Blue Jays

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Top Catching Prospect J.P. Arencibia Called Up by Toronto Blue Jays
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On Wednesday afternoon against the New York Yankees, starting catcher John Buck injured his thumb and was placed on the disabled list after the game. There's no definite timetable for his return, but he won't be back until Aug. 19 at the earliest. Injuries are never anything to get excited about, but sometimes the player movement that stems from one can cause some excitement.

That looks to be the case here, as the Blue Jays promoted one of their top prospects, catcher J.P. Arencibia, to take Buck's roster spot. Arencibia figured to make his debut at some point this season, at the least with a September call-up. That has been moved up to now, and it's possible J.P. will stay with the club for the remainder of the season.

The Jays could opt to keep him on the roster even if Buck returns before rosters expand on the first of September. Until then, Arencibia should get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate for the Jays. Back down in Triple-A Las Vegas, Brian Jeroloman will be taking over the starting duties behind the plate. Jeroloman was enjoying a productive season in Double-A and will get his second shot at the higher level.

According to StatCorner's site, Arencibia has been Las Vegas' best offensive performer this season. He's been a team-best 21.5 batting runs above average in 420 plate appearances. That represents a complete turnaround from his 2009 season, also at Triple-A, when he was 14.7 batting runs below average in 500 trips to the plate.

The improvement offensively is easily noticeable in several different areas, the most reassuring being his improved walk rate. While he might never be able to draw any more than a league-average number of walks, he should at least be able to avoid being labeled as a free swinger. His 7.9 percent walk rate is the best of his career and has come a long way since walking just 2.5 percent of the time in 2008 with Double-A New Hampshire.

J.P. has also seen more pitches this season than last, improving to 3.73 pitches per plate appearance. He's been able to both walk more and see more pitches while at the same time striking out less. After swinging at 54.5 percent of the pitches he saw in '09, Arencibia has cut back to 50.1 percent this season.

Hitting the long ball has never been a problem for Arencibia since being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. He went deep 27 times in 2008 between High-A and Double-A and hit another 21 homers last year. This season he's gone yard 31 times in just 420 plate appearances.

His overall power has also been impressive. His ISO was over .200 in both '08 and '09 before this season's outstanding .336. Arencibia has collected over 30 doubles each of the past three seasons. Like many catchers, the doubles come more from the solid contact than any ability to move quickly on the bases.

His batted ball profile, in terms of balls in play going for either a line drive, fly ball, or grounder, is largely unchanged from last season despite his BABIP jumping from .267 to .304. The .304 in 2010 is in line with his BABIP from '08 and '09, both of which were over .300. The rise in BABIP and the home run barrage have pushed his average to .303, a huge improvement from '09.

Defense matters more for catchers than any other position, and it will be crucial that Arencibia can hold his own behind the plate. In his preseason prospect rankings on FanGraphs, Marc Hulet noted that scouts felt his defense had made strides during the 2009 season. He speculated that J.P.'s defensive abilities could be average to slightly above average.

Total Zone for catchers, which judges a catcher only on his ability to control the running game, rates Arencibia as slightly above average in throwing out and picking off runners. Advanced fielding stats have their uses, but not for evaluating catcher defense. All the intangibles of working with a pitching staff, calling a game, and so on are hard, if not impossible, to quantify.

We know what to expect, or at least hope for, when Arencibia steps to the plate, but time will need to pass to see how the other aspects of his game measure up. However many games J.P. gets into for the Jays this season will mean more to him than to anyone trying to analyze the results. At best he'd get 160 or so trips to the plate, far too small a sample size to draw conclusions from.

It will be said this is an audition for a starting role in 2011, but the Jays front office is not foolish enough to base that decision on 30 to 40 games when they have years of information from their player development personnel and coaches. That he has been called up is a sign they believe he is ready and that they are ready to commit a season's worth of playing time to see what he can do.

The time up with Toronto will be invaluable to Arencibia. It will give him a chance to face the best pitchers and fastest baserunners for the first time, and the lessons he learns will pay dividends in 2011. Playing through the month of September for the first time will be a valuable experience. Catching 120 games a year is taxing on the body and something Jays fans hope Arencibia will have to get used to in the years ahead.

Enjoy watching one of the Jays' prized prospects begin his big league career, but don't get overly concerned with the results, good, bad, or ugly.

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