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October 2, 2014

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LAS VEGAS 51S:

Jays’ top catching prospect Arencibia looks to continue rapid rise

After matching A-Rod’s high school record, 51s backstop hopes to soon call him a peer

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51s catcher J.P. Arencibia

J.P. Arencibia may not be considered baseball royalty just yet by the general public.

But at Westminster Christian High in Miami, his name is in the record books alongside someone who certainly fits that bill.

Back in 2004, the Blue Jays' top catching prospect -- currently a step from the bigs playing for the 51s -- clubbed 17 home runs.

The only other guy in Westminster history to do so?

Alex Rodriguez.

Yes, the Alex Rodriguez who now carries a $25 million-a-year price tag, has already hit more than 500 home runs in the majors and will eventually land in Cooperstown.

"Obviously, it's a honor to be from the same high school and in the same category, but he's done it at the highest level and he's done it for a lot of years, and he's been so successful," Arencibia said humbly. "That's where, if one day they can speak my name and his name at the same time as far as what he's done in the big leagues, then that'd be where I want to be."

Arencibia comes across as humble with everything he talks about, but no one could fault him if he were the complete opposite.

The Jays took Arencibia with the 21st overall selection in the 2007 MLB amateur draft after a stellar collegiate career at Tennessee, giving him a signing bonus of roughly $1.3 million right out of the gates.

In a two-year shot through the minors, he's hit for a .285 average over 189 games, clubbing 30 homers and driving in 180 runs. He ended last season with a 67-game run at Double-A New Hampshire.

"I've been lucky enough to where I've been able to move pretty quick," Arencibia said. "I can't say I expected to move that quick, but you always set goals and you always want to do very well wherever you go. And the Blue Jays have been good with me in that they're not scared to move me or challenge me. That's the biggest thing."

This season in Triple-A will only bring on new challenges for Arencibia, who is one of the Jays' top overall prospects.

Last year, the move to Double-A put him on a platform with more veteran players who make things more difficult on a daily basis, he said.

Now, he's at the most veteran level of the minor league ranks as one of the 51s' youngest players.

Oddly enough, where the 51s have the most veteran presence on their roster is on the pitching staff, with seasoned major league starters such as Wade Miller and Brian Burres, plus a bevy of relievers who have dabbled in the bigs.

He classifies himself as a guy who leads by example, but said he's not afraid to say something to his battery mate if need be.

"It's gonna be tremendously valuable to him," 51s manager Mike Basso said of Arencibia working with the veteran staff. "We've talked about that at length. He's gotta learn to use the pitcher's strengths. That's something that will be part of his development.

"He's got leadership capabilities. He handles a staff pretty well. He hasn't been playing that long in pro baseball, so he's gotta find his own niche, and he will."

While he has some development to be done defensively, a big part of the reason he's in Triple-A is that everyone in the organization knows he can hit wherever he is.

"Now he's gotta learn how to deal with the older pitchers from an offensive standpoint," Basso said. "So it's good for him to be here. This is right where he needs to be."

So far, he's kept his head above water, hitting .273 with five RBI to his credit.

If Arencibia's previous stops indicate anything, though, his first extended stay in Las Vegas might not be a lengthy one.

As a franchise, Toronto has not been known in recent years for having much offensive punch out of the catcher's spot.

During the Jays' torrid 10-4 start to the 2009 season, veteran backstops Rod Barajas and Michael Barrett have hit .235 and .167, respectively, with a combined one home run and five RBI.

"Toronto and Vegas, obviously you don't expect that just because of the distance, but it worked out the way it worked out and we're in a good city, obviously," he said. "But you've got to know, at the same time, that you're here to not be here eventually."

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