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Tampa Bay Rays: Could J.P. Arencibia Be the Next Spark?

By Robbie Knopf
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J.P. Arencibia must have chuckled a little bit when he saw Curt Casali hit for so much power with the Tampa Bay Rays. At the time of Casali’s call-up, he had 4 home runs with the Triple-A Durham Bulls while Arencibia had 10. In the time since, despite Casali’s homer surge, Arencibia has still beaten him in home runs 12 to 10. Of course, Casali has other advantages of Arencibia, with defense and on-base skills being foremost among them. But the Rays’ hope is that Arencibia can hit a few balls over the fence and make Casali’s absence easier to deal with.

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If we just looked at the home runs, we could craft a narrative about Arencibia being a deserving player finally getting his big league chance. Looking even one tiny step further, though, that isn’t really the case. Areniciba hit to just a .227/.259/.443 line with the Bulls as all of his power could only net him a .702 OPS. His home runs do continue to lead the International League, but even a rudimentary knowledge of on-base percentage would tell you that Arencibia has serious flaws in his offensive game. In addition, he wasn’t even doing much catching this year, spending most of his time at first base and DH, so he doesn’t even have that as an excuse.

However, in the context of the hitters that have helped the Rays this season, is Arencibia even the biggest long shot? We have seen 30-year-old rookie Joey Butler come up and carry the offense for a month and a half. Grady Sizemore has come up and hit for legitimate power for the first time since 2011. And craziest of all is Logan Forsythe, who hadn’t hit right-handed pitching since Double-A but is suddenly doing so again now. Arencibia, meanwhile, hit 20 home runs in the major leagues as recently as 2013.

Even in that 2013 season, Arencibia managed just a .194/.227/.365 line for the Toronto Blue Jays. He improved only moderately to a .177/.239/.365 line with the Texas Rangers last season. After 719 plate appearances that bad, maybe it is crazy to think that Arencibia can get back to his .225/.279/.437 line with 41 home runs from 2011 to 2012. In addition, he hit to a .279/.320/.542 line at Triple-A before the Rangers called him up last season, and he hasn’t come close to that this year. Why should we think that his MLB results will be any better that his terrible results the last two years?

All of this said, the Rays aren’t asking for a long-term answer–they are just hoping for nice performance in a small sample size. They will have Derek Shelton perform whatever magic trick helped Sizemore play so well, and maybe that will be enough to get them two great weeks from Arencibia and one mediocre one before Casali is ready to come back. That doesn’t mean that Arencibia playing well is a likely outcome–just because the Rays have been getting lucky doesn’t mean that getting lucky is the norm. That being said, at least they have a hitting coach in Shelton who has been doing some things right this year to give fans some hope.

J.P. Arencibia is the next less-than-ideal candidate who will get a chance for semi-regular at-bats with the Tampa Bay Rays. He is hoping to resuscitate his career while the Rays are hoping for another lift to their offense. We will have to see if the Rays roll a twelve on their dice again, although maybe an eleven or a ten would also be sufficient.

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