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Tampa Bay Rays: J.P. Arencibia Adds Power at Catcher, First Base

By Robbie Knopf

J.P. Arencibia is not the Tampa Bay Rays’ type of catcher. His defense is well below-average, and though he does hit home runs, he has never managed even a .285 on-base percentage in the big leagues. Despite those facts, though, Arencibia is a player that we have talked about as a Rays target for a long time. In five minutes of searching through the Rays Colored Glasses archives, I found that I wrote about him in that vein on 11/19/12, 10/22/13, 12/2/13, and even briefly on 12/8/14.

With that in mind, maybe it was inevitable that J.P. Arencibia would end up in a Rays uniform at some point. Now it has finally happened. Marc Topkin reports that the Rays have signed Arencibia to a minor league deal and will assign him to Triple-A Durham to start his tenure with the team.

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Not once has a Tampa Bay Rays catcher hit 15 home runs in a season. Arencibia did so in three consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2013. Arencibia has averaged 23 homers and 71 RBI per 500 plate appearances in his career, the type of numbers that the Rays wish they could have in the middle of their lineup. Despite those gaudy two statistics, though, Arencibia has just a .207/.255/.403 line for his career, amounting to just a 77 OPS+ (23% below league average).

Arencibia almost never walks and strikes out more than his fair share of times. For his career, he has 462 strikeouts versus just 84 walks, an unbelievably bad 5.5-to-1 ratio. In the history of baseball, just five non-pitchers who made at least 1500 plate appearances are worse: Rob Picciolo (retired in 1985), Jim Lillie (1886), Silver Flint (1889), Miguel Olivo (active last year), and Whitey Alpermann (1909). That’s it! On a more positive note, there is some reason to think that he can hit left-handed pitching as he has been at least 10% above league average against them (per sOPS+) in three out of the last four years.

In addition, Arencibia has drastically improved his ability to frame pitches. He was second-worst in baseball in 2011 at 18.8 runs below average and 8.1 run below average in 2012, but he improved to 14.9 runs above-average in 2013, 8th-best in baseball. He was then around average in his brief time at catcher last season. He still allows was too many passed balls and is mediocre at throwing out basestealers, but he is at least average at framing at this point.

On the whole, Arencibia could give the Tampa Bay Rays some power off their bench while seeing time at catcher and first base. However, the Rays are better off going with Curt Casali if an injury occurs or if they want a better option than Bobby Wilson. He is both a better defender than Arencibia and at least as good at the plate–Arencibia’s homers can’t overshadow all of his flaws. Arencibia is fine depth, but the Rays hope that playing him in the big leagues does not ever become necessary.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: This Could Be Desmond Jennings’ Year