If we’re being completely honest, the best rookie in the American League this season has been Brett Lawrie, followed closely by Desmond Jennings and Dustin Ackley. The Rookie of the Year race should be between these three future franchise cornerstones, but it seems grossly unlikely that voters will give the nod to players who played partial seasons only, even if their sabermetric stats like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) may dictate they were, in fact, the most valuable (and outstanding) AL rookies.

This is, of course, a shame, and an indictment on current CBA rules that more or less force budget-conscious teams to keep their top prospects in the minors to start the year, thus avoiding “Super Two” early-arbitration eligibility. By keeping Lawrie, Jennings, Ackley, and others in the minors until June, July, or later, teams can push their service time clocks far enough back to control the player for an additional year later on. While you can agree or disagree with this from a team management standpoint (after all, the Jays will likely lock up Lawrie to a long-term deal buying out his arbitration years anyway, and ditto for the other two), you can’t help but find the error from a moral standpoint - this is a system that hurts players, teams, and owners by keeping major league caliber talent off of rosters for a suboptimal amount of time. But I digress…

My point is that with these three (we’ll call them your MVRs or MORs for Most Valuable/Most Outstanding Rookies) will not be given the Rookie of the Year nod unless voters have a serious change in their standard views of the award. That makes the actual Rookie of the Year race relatively wide-open, and with that in mind I turn your attention to the candidacy of another Toronto Blue Jay, rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.

Don’t initially dismiss Arencibia. While my nomination may, in part (okay, entirely), be buoyed by his immense likability, and my homerism, he has a legitimate case to at least be in the second tier of the discussion. The fact that he has become one of the Jays’ most popular players, and their biggest presence in the Toronto community, is a great sign for the franchise but irrelevant to the award voting. (But still…hockey-cliche laden interviews, CCMA appearances, bonding with the Leafs, showing up on The Edge…this guy is already an honorary Canadian, a huge fan favorite, and a Bieber-esque heart-throb in the eyes of female Jay fans.)

In pure baseball terms though, Arencibia probably isn’t the AL Rookie of the Year. When I planned to write this article, I thought the numbers would back up my case better than they did. That said, his season should still be acknowledged as a standout rookie performance. Arencibia has already set Blue Jay records for home runs by a catcher and by a rookie, and is closing in on those same records for runs batted in (though he’ll likely miss Eric Hinske’s rookie mark of 84 RBI).

After winning the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) MVP award last year, Arencibia was still doubted as a major league contributor entering this season. His defense was poor, he hit home runs and nothing else, he struggled to throw runners out, and had all the makings of a Quad-A player. The Jays believed enough to hand him the starting reigns, and it’s paid dividends this season. Arencibia’s defense has improved immensely from the start of the season, and while there aren’t robust enough statistics to back it up, he certainly passes the eye test now. Yes, he has the most passed balls (11) of any catcher not asked to catch a Knuckleballer (Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Thole have more, catching Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey), and his thrown out percentage (24.2%) isn’t other-worldly. However, that success rate is the 13th best among qualified catchers, he’s thrown out the 15th most runners in baseball (24), and if you believe in that sort of thing, he has a respectable 4.30 catcher’s ERA (cERA). Defensive statistics have come a long way but are still poor for evaluating catchers, so it’s tough to put a number on Arencibia’s defense, but at the very least it’s clear that he went from being a potential liability to a serviceable defender with a potentially plus throwing arm.

In regards to hitting, it seems he may never hit for a high average, being an all-or-nothing slugger. He sports just a .219 average (dragged down a bit by his unlucky .255 BABIP, though it’s somewhat accurate given his 12.1% infield fly mark) and a .278 OBP. Obviously, that OBP isn’t an acceptable mark, and he needs to cut down on his 27.5% strikeout rate, but his .447 SLG (.229 ISO) makes up for some of that deficit, bringing him to a 95 wRC+. This means he’s been only about 5% below a league-average hitter overall, and that’s before the positional adjustment that makes him an above-average hitting catcher. WAR may underrate him a bit 1.4 (dragged down by mediocre fielding metrics and a poor baserunning score), though 14th among qualified AL rookies is still relatively impressive.

For those who don’t like the deeper statistics, Arencibia’s rookie year looks even better - he has 22 home runs and 72 RBI. While he’s only managed 17 doubles (and 4 triples), his power doesn’t appear fluky, as he has just 3 of his homers have been classified as the “just enough” variety. Arencibia has proven that the power he showed in the minor leagues is a major league skill, and this will be at least enough to keep him in work for some time. That isolated slugging % is second only to Brett Lawrie and Jason Kipnis among AL rookies, and they don’t have the plate appearances to technically qualify. That is, Arencibia adds more to his batting average with extra-base hits than any other rookie.

Arencibia obviously needs to continue to develop if he wants to keep the Jays’ starting catching job for much longer. Travis d’Arnaud won the Eastern League (Double-A) MVP this year and currently rates as the top catching prospect in baseball, save for maybe Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati. Arencibia’s power will play anywhere on the diamond if the OBP increases, but it’s improvements to his K%, BB%, and fielding that will keep him behind the plate in the long-term. After so many doubted him heading into this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the same this coming offseason. After all, a .219 average and .278 OBP don’t play in the majors, right?

Sorry, but I’m a believer. Maybe it’s because he has charisma and comes off as a genuinely fun person, or maybe it’s because the players who overcome doubts once tend to be able to do so over the long haul. Maybe it’s because I want Brett Lawrie to have a long-term running mate in the dugout, or just because I have blind faith, or because I use Twitter (JP can be followed @jparencibia9) too much. I’m not sure, really. Sometimes you just get a feeling about a player’s potential. Sometimes it makes you look awful (Curtis Thigpen), sometimes it makes you look good for just a short period (Alex Rios), and sometimes it’s the right feeling, just too strong (Adam Lind). I can’t claim to be all-in on Arencibia as the future of the franchise behind the plate; Travis d’Arnaud is too good to ignore. But I’d love to pencil him in as a part of the team in some form for years to come, and I hope Alex Anthoupolos feels the same.

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