JP Arencibia: Setting the Tone
J.P. Arencibia is back in the Bull City, and you can already tell that it’s making a difference.
Fans will notice the difference when Arencibia is on the base paths, as he talks with nearby opposing players when he is on-base. He’ll talk with fans between innings on his off days when he stands in the first base coach’s box. Sometimes he’ll even chat with opposing batters when he is playing catcher.
The good-natured chatter has given games a more laid-back feel, and helps take down the wall between opposing teams, as well as between the players and the fans. But the other noticeable difference is how having him back has changed the rest of the Bulls team.
“I think having [Arencibia] here has definitely brought a leadership aspect,” Blake Snell said. “He’s a huge leader, a good teammate, holds everyone accountable, and holds himself accountable as well.”
Last season was Arencibia’s first season starting in the minor leagues since 2010. He took the assignment in stride, becoming the leading veteran presence in the Bulls’ clubhouse.
When Snell came to the Bulls during his breakout 2015 season, he was a fish out of water at the minor league’s highest level. Arencibia made sure he got settled in and took him under his wing.
“I didn’t really know anyone here at the Triple-A level,” Snell recalled. “I knew a couple of the guys, but I didn’t know a bunch of people and he helped me get used to the clubhouse and how things go.”
For Arencibia, last season had a lot of positives.
“[Last year] was great, it was my first year in the minor leagues in a long time and the city is phenomenal,” he said. “There are a lot of things to do outside of baseball. I think the weather is great, the atmosphere is good. That’s the biggest thing, is when you come to the field and you’re excited to play.”
During the offseason, Arencibia joined the Philadelphia Phillies organization as he strived to find a major-league role. He was assigned to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to begin 2016, but was granted his release in May. It wasn’t long before he had rejoined the Rays organization and was back with the Bulls, where he was happy to be.
“It’s great to be back,” he said. “I love the city, I love the organization. I enjoyed my time here. For a minor league city, it’s one of the better ones I ever played in.”
Arencibia set a new tone in the Bulls clubhouse just by walking in.
“He came back and it all just started clicking again,” Snell noticed. “The team is more uppity-up, more happy to be here, not just because of one guy, but he does have a huge impact on the way everyone interacts with each other. Everyone is always happy, and I feel like he has a huge part in that. He can talk to anyone.”
He has a big impact on the field, too. On June 12, at Lehigh Valley, he had a first-inning grand slam for Durham against his former team to help propel the Bulls to a 10-3 win.
And as a catcher, it’s the more subtle things he does on the field that have helped set the tone, too.
“I think he brings the bulldog out of me more,” Snell said. “When I pitch to him, I’m more aggressive. It’s the same with Luke [Maile], too. They say the same things, and they know how to say it. [Arencibia] knows what to say in the moment and it really helps me be that much better on the field.”
Arencibia was the 2015 Goodmon Award winner for Community Service, recognized for his energetic and frequent interactions with fans at the DBAP. He and his wife, Kimberly, have also donated numerous autographed and personal items for auction in his time with Durham.
He has also been a resource for the younger players, using his experience to offer advice on and off the field. He formed a close bond with Snell in particular last season.
“He helped me a lot this year when he wasn’t here,” Snell said. “I was calling him, talking to him about a bunch of things I was thinking about too much, and he really helped me get my mind off of it and remember that I’m playing baseball and this is where I need to be. He’s helped me a lot in my career the little amount of time that I’ve known him.”
Arencibia has assumed his same role as last season, for the most part. He has done more catching this season than he did in 2015, when he played first base and designated hitter more than he had in previous years.
That transition back to catching was natural, he said, because it wasn’t a re-learning process. He just got back into his natural position on the field.
He ended 2015 with the Rays, hitting .310 with six home runs in just 24 games. He clubbed 22 home runs prior to that call-up, the most in the International League last season.
“For starting back in the minor leagues, to get back up to the big leagues and have success, that was huge,” Arencibia said. “And to get knocked down and be back up, I’m better because of it.”
With numbers like that, there is certainly a chance Arencibia plays his way back to the majors again this season. But he’s already had a lasting impact on his teammates.
“He’s been to the big leagues, he’s down here and he’ll probably get back up, he’s good enough to,” Snell said. “But he’s definitely a guy who everyone really enjoys having around.”