It is not easy to find many well-rounded major league catchers these days that can both call a great game and do some damage with the bat. Few that come to mind includes Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Alex Avila, Carlos Santana and Miguel Montero.
Catching is a very demanding position as it requires one to be the on-field "captain" by controlling the running game and the game-calling. Many teams, including the Yankees and Red Sox, do not have a top-tier catcher yet. Going into the 2011 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were blessed to have two catchers in their top ten prospects list, J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud.
Both of these catchers come from a common origin, the 2007 first-year player draft.
Arencibia was drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Tennessee. With the 37th pick, the Philadelphia Phillies went with d’Arnaud from Lakewood High School, one slot before the Blue Jays picked left-handed pitcher Brett Cecil. It was believed that the Blue Jays were deeply interested in d’Arnaud’s potential and were going to pick him with the 38th pick and potentially move Arencibia to first base.
Fast-forward two years and the Blue Jays acquire d’Arnaud in a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, along with Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, for Roy Halladay. With two young studs at the position, who will actually be the starting catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays?
Arencibia made his Major League debut last year against the Tampa Bay Rays and it was a historical one. He launched the first pitch he saw over the left field wall for a home run. He later singled, doubled and capped the day with a home run to right field (I would have stopped at third base to complete the cycle).
That game showed us a lot about Arencibia and his ability to hit the ball for power. Arencibia has entered into a slump recently, but I truly believe he has the ability to become a catcher that can lead the position in home runs one day.
He possesses raw power, but lacks plate discipline and is too aggressive. This can be proved by a career .507 slugging percentage in the minors, though only a .319 on-base percentage and 357 strikeouts. In order for him to become a better offensive catcher and a middle of the lineup threat, he will need to improve on his plate discipline.
Defensively, Arencibia is very athletic and does have a good arm, though he has always struggled with blocking pitches in the dirt. In his minor league career, Arencibia threw out close to 30 percent of base thieves, though charged with 60 passed balls in 357 games.
On the other hand, d’Arnaud is quietly putting up some great numbers with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Before this year, many were not sold on d’Arnaud due to his injuries and his struggles at the plate.
However, one needs to remember that d’Arnaud is a high school pick and the numbers from the first three years of professional baseball must be taken with a grain of salt. If he had chosen to go to college, he would have been drafted in 2010 as a high first-rounder and thus his numbers post-2010 are much more significant than those of pre-2010.
And what exactly are those post-2010 numbers like? As of today, d’Arnaud is hitting .326, with an on-base percentage of .395 and a slugging percentage of .562, yielding an OPS of .958. He currently has 15 home runs along with 29 doubles and 52 RBI.
His game is not one-dimensional, but rather he is also great defensively. He has great game-calling abilities but defensively, he has done a great job behind the plate and he is also armed with a plus arm. Sal Fasano, manager of the Fisher Cats has raved about d’Arnaud’s defensive abilities, and continues to talk about his progression in that aspect of the game.
So who could be the better catcher? In my opinion, I see d’Arnaud developing to become a better overall player at the position, in comparison to Arencibia. Offensively, d’Arnaud has the ability to work the count, hit for a higher average and hit for decent power. I truly believe that Arencibia can hit for more power than d’Arnaud, though.
Defensively, d’Arnaud is more equipped with tools to help him behind the plate when compared to Arencibia. When I say that I would rather have d’Arnaud be the future catcher of the Blue Jays over Arencibia, I say that with all the respect to Arencibia. It must be made clear that the Blue Jays just happen to be blessed with two great catchers and I am the first to say that I can see 25 other Major League teams lining up for the services of Arencibia if he were traded.
I can see d’Arnaud posting numbers such as .277/.340/.450, averaging 22 home runs and 35 doubles. On the other hand, I can see Arencibia posting numbers such as .240/.315/.480, averaging 27 home runs and 30 doubles. Could it be possible that the Blue Jays convert Arencibia to a first baseman to split time with Adam Lind?
However, they might find a designated hitter/first baseman that can put up more offensive numbers than Arencibia and they see what they can get for him on the market. Whatever Anthopoulos decides to do, one thing is certain: the Blue Jays are blessed with two young catchers.
Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.