When it was announced that J.P. Arencibia would be joining Team USA as a backup catcher at the upcoming World Baseball Classic, my initial reaction was that his participation in the tournament would yield a positive return for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.
Aside from the fact that he’ll be playing competitive baseball earlier than most in the major leagues, he will also be on the same team with fellow Blue Jay, R.A. Dickey. Being that their work relationship may wind up being crucial to the knuckleballer’s success in Toronto, I reasoned that the extra few weeks of catching Dickey in side sessions will make the learning curve for Arencibia much more manageable.
But, could none of it go as intended? Might Arencibia’s choice to play for his country in the WBC wind up having a negative effect on his 2013 season with the Blue Jays?
There are compelling reasons to believe so.
Injury risks aside, JPA’s decision to suit up for Team USA will mean that he’ll likely wind up sitting on the bench for much of the tournament’s two-plus week duration. He’ll be behind both Joe Mauer and Jonathan Lucroy in the depth chart, and that he isn’t likely to get a lot of game action takes away at-bats from Arencibia that he would otherwise be getting with the Blue Jays in Spring Training.
Aside from being a streaky hitter, Arencibia is also something of a slow starter. If he does not get his share of at-bats with Team USA, it could put the catcher even further behind the curve by the time Spring Training ends and he has to take his role as the Blue Jays’ main backstop. Going from bench duties to a full-load could very well put Arencibia in an extended funk to start the season, and seriously affect his production in April and on.
As for the opportunities to work with Dickey – the extent of that remains to be seen. After all, it’s Mauer who will wind up catching the knuckleballer most of the time, and any work that Arencibia ends up getting in could be minimal. Besides, the Blue Jays may go with Josh Thole to catch the 2012 NL Cy Young winner enough times in 2013 to make the positive impact of the whole thing negligible for Arencibia.
Consistency is something that has alluded Arencibia to this point in his career. To take the next step, he will need his share of at-bats in Spring Training.
If playing for Team USA in March won’t get him that, the Blue Jays might end up dealing with an extended slump that they can’t afford to have from their starting catcher.