This is the eleventh part of a series of posts on the keys to the Toronto Blue Jays 2010 season. Part I, where we introduced and laid out all the keys, is here. Most recently, we discussed the continued development of Zach Stewart in the high minors. This post will focus on how our trio of catching prospects, J.P. Arencibia, Travis d'Arnaud and Carlos Perez, fare.
10. J.P. Arencibia / Travis d'Arnaud / Carlos Perez -- If J.P. bounces back and gets off to a good start out in the desert, the Jays could be looking at an embarrassment of riches at catcher with Perez and D'Arnaud coming up in a few years as well. Plenty of upside in the three here, but if Arencibia's struggles weren't limited to vision problems, we're looking at some sparse years before the younger kids make it up to the bigs, assuming their development goes smoothly.
In this case, we've decided to combine three players who are at somewhat different development phases because they are all catchers and scouts rank them all as solid defensively. J.P. Arencibia, the 21st overall selection in the 2007 draft out of University of Tennessee - Knoxville, got off to a bit of a slow start in short-season ball the season he was drafted but hit the ground running in 2008, when he raked at high-A and held his own at AA. Going into 2009, he was one of the Jays' most heavily touted prospects. The 2009 season, however, which he spent in Las Vegas, changed that drastically. The slugging catcher was never really known for his on-base skills, but they dropped to a new low last season, when he struck out 114 times (against just 26 walks) en route to a .284 OBP.
Travis d'Arnaud was actually a supplemental pick for the Phillies in the same 2007 draft. Like Arencibia, the high school draftee struggled a bit in his first taste of professional ball but really hit his stride once he got to spend a full season in the pros, OPSing .831 in 267 combined plate appearances between short-season and A ball in 2008. The Phillies kept him at A ball in 2009, where he held his own over the course of the season (.255 / .319 / .419), though he wasn't exactly destroying the ball.
Carlos Perez, still just 19 years old, has a wealth of potential. At his age, he's already had some success at the rookie level (.291 / .364 / .433 in 163 at-bats last season), so there's no reason that he can't continue to put that up. Of course, at his age there's little we can be sure about, but that doesn't mean he doesn't merit including with the other two. He's listed here mainly as a third (and later option) to see what happens as he progresses.Thus far through 2010, Arencibia has bounced back in a big way. Perhaps all the talk about his struggles in 2009 stemming from vision issues wasn't just talk. Repeating Las Vegas, the kid has bounced back in an huge way, batting .315 / .363 / .645 with 21 homers already. That line is certainly helped a bunch from playing in Las Vegas, but his major league equivalent (according to minorleaguesplits.com) is still a fairly solid .252 / .290 / .482 which, while nothing exceptional is still just 50 points of OPS worse than All-Star John Buck. If the Jays can move Buck as the trade deadline approaches, we might see J.P. up before September. If they can't, he should probably be a September callup. You really can't ask for anything more from Arencibia than what he's shown so far this season. Even his walk-rate has increased the better side of 7% (up from around 5% in 2009), while his strikeout-rate has dropped down to around 20% (down from almost 25% in 2009). There's been a lot of improvement here and hopefully he keeps it up. Anything we'll see in the big leagues will be a bonus.
D'Arnaud, like Arencibia, has had a strong 2010, batting .288 / .338 / .446 so far. A bit worrying is that while he has destroyed southpaws, d'Arnaud has struggled some against right-handed pitching, batting just .243 / .305 / .368 against them. His BABIP, at just .266, is a bit low, but the .125 ISO-p and 14.9 InfieldFly% suggest that he has not driven the ball quite as well as we'd like. Given time, there's no reason that Travis shouldn't be able to master hitting righties, but it would be nice to see it sooner than later. Barring an horrific second-half slump, Travis is probably in New Hampshire next season, but the goal for him should be to get called up there for a cup of coffee in 2010. As has been said numerous times, the jump from A+ to AA is a tough one to make, so it would be nice to see the kid make it if he can.
Carlos Perez, still just in short-season A-ball, has just started his season, but he's had no problems so far. Over 14 games, he's shown his on-base skills, batting .280 / .362 / .460 and drawing six walks already. It would be nice to see a little power (he has just two career homeruns), but power develops late and at his age there's no reason to expect he it won't come eventually. Even if it doesn't, there's plenty of value in a cost-controlled, above-average defensive catcher who gets on-base well. Look for Carlos to continue to do what he's done so far and perhaps even earn a promotion to Lansing.