PHOENIX — Phoenix Desert Dog teammates J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays) and Eric Young Jr. (Rockies) were joking around before a recent Arizona Fall League game, talking about their respective baseball abilities, when Arencibia proclaimed to Young, “You were born with speed, I was born with power ‘¦”
Arencibia then added, with a laugh, ” … and good looks, too.”
We don’t use the 20-80 scouting scale to rank baseball prospects on their looks. We’ll leave that task to the fans.
But Arencibia is spot on when he says that he’s got power … and plenty of it.
The University of Tennessee All-American catcher, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round (21st overall) in 2007, hit a combined 27 home runs during the regular season split between high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. He added four more homers during the first four weeks of the AFL season.
His AFL home runs haven’t been cheap ones, either. Most of Arencibia’s bombs this fall could be classified as “tape measure” shots, including one recent homer off Javelina pitcher Alex Periard (Brewers) that easily cleared the cluster of trees beyond the left-field fence at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
In case there were any doubters in the crowd on that warm, sunny afternoon, Arencibia went yard the next inning with a ball that traveled nearly as far as the first shot.
Arencibia’s 30-plus home run season comes after the righthanded batter hit just three in his debut season at short-season Auburn. The Miami native knows what was wrong in his first pro year.
“When I signed I tried to do so much to live up to this person that I would go out there and try to hit home runs all the time,” Arencibia said. “I got out of my game and had to really just slow things down. This offseason I gained 15 pounds ‘¦ this also helped me as far as pitches that I didn’t hit as well were still getting out. But more than anything, it was just trying to stay within myself and not try to do too much.”
Despite the improvement in his second professional season, Arencibia still needs to develop a better approach at the plate after a season in which he fanned 101 times and drew just 18 walks. Curbing his aggressiveness at the plate is just one of the reasons for Arencibia being in the Arizona Fall League.
“The organization was wanting him to see more pitches and trying to get his walk ratio up a little bit,” said Desert Dog hitting coach Charles Poe, who during the regular season was a Blue Jays coach at Auburn. “He struck out a lot ‘¦ they just want him to be a little more patient at the plate.”
Arencibia also wants to develop a better hitting approach, but not completely at the expense of his natural aggressiveness.
“I’m just trying to swing at strikes,” he said. “I’ve started to figure out that trying to see more pitches doesn’t mean walking more. It just means getting myself in a better position to get in counts that help me out as a hitter, and still not lose that aggressiveness that has always made me the player that I am.”
Arencibia’s defensive work is improving this fall. The draft report coming out of Tennessee indicated that there were questions as to whether he could remain behind the plate as a pro, but he’s put that idea behind him. He threw out 33 percent of the runners who attempted to steal off him during the regular season.
“(I’m) just getting better in every aspect,” Arencibia said, “working on every pitch, making every pitch a priority that I catch ‘¦ people are starting to realize that I can be a good defender.”
Poe added that the organization wants Arencibia to keep his concentration late into the games. He believes that the 22-year-old catcher is making good strides defensively in the AFL.
“A couple of scouts were telling me that he looks really good back there,” said Poe, “calling pitches and blocking balls, so that’s a plus ‘¦ the pitchers love throwing to him because he calls a really good game.”
With his outgoing personality, Arencibia has the ability to keep his teammates loose. He loves to talk, whether it’s about baseball or his developing appreciation for sushi. This attitude extends to how he functions on the field.
“I just try to have fun,” he said. “I’m a very optimistic person in life ‘¦ I play very loose. I’m the kind of player that if I try to get too tense or try to do too much, I’m not good. I’m playing my best when I’m loose.”
“He is the clubhouse clown,” added Poe. “He’s the guy. He’s always got tricks up his sleeve, doing stuff with the guys.”
But Arencibia’s jovial nature doesn’t affect his in-game leadership ability.
“In between the lines, he’s really serious,” said Poe.
Desert Dogs outfielder Eric Young Jr. (Rockies) had a week to remember. The switch-hitting outfielder had two grand slams last week, but they both weren’t traditional shots out of the park. The first granny came on Tuesday in a home game against Surprise, when Rafters centerfielder Julio Borbon (Rangers) attempted a diving catch on Young’s line drive in right center. Young easily circled the bases behind the three runners as the ball rolled to the fence.
Young cleared the bases again on Saturday in a home game against the Saguaros, this time with a long bomb off the Phoenix Municipal Stadium scoreboard in right center. His third homer of the season was extra special for Young because his father, a 15-year major league veteran and current ESPN Baseball Tonight analyst, had just arrived in Arizona. Young Sr. was beaming with fatherly pride after the game in which his son added two more hits and stole a pair of bases.
Arizona Diamondbacks veterans Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson, both of whom were products of the Arizona Fall League, hosted the second annual Pat Tillman Foundation benefit on Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium. Memorabilia donated by the 30 major league organizations were sold to fans via a silent auction to benefit the foundation set up after the former Arizona Cardinal player was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004 while serving in the U.S. Army.