In an organization bereft of home-grown talent, particularly at the catcher position, Danny Jansen is poised to make his case as the Blue Jays’ catcher of the future.
The twenty-two year old has captured the attention of management this season, accomplishing something that few baseball players manage to do during their minor-league careers. He has skyrocketed through the minor-league system, advancing through three levels in just one season.
What is even more impressive is that Jansen’s offensive statistics improved in triple-A – where he has faced pitchers with major-league experience – compared to his stint in single-A. Jansen began his 2017 campaign in high-A ball with the Dunedin Blue Jays, where he hit .369/.422/.541/.963 over the course of 31 games before making the jump to double-A New Hampshire and hitting .291/.378/.419/.797 in 52 games. He will now finish his minor league season with the Buffalo Bisons, where he has hit a whopping .382/.477/.655/1.131 in his first 18 games.
Given both his performance and the fact that he must be added to the 40-man roster this off-season to avoid being subjected to the Rule 5 draft, it’s possible that he will be granted the opportunity to show what he’s got at the major-league level when the Blue Jays add their second wave of September call ups.
Despite the quick ascent, Jansen has soaked in as much as possible from those around him at each stage along his journey.
“One of my biggest goals is to be a better game-caller and a better catcher, and just going with more experience [with regards to other players]. I just want to pick their brains and I want to be on the same page as them and I want to learn as much as possible because this game is all about making adjustments and I just want to keep learning.”
Despite this year’s offensive prowess, it was his defense that initially opened eyes. At six-foot-two and 225 pounds, Jansen has the physical stature to endure the rigors of playing the most physically demanding position in baseball. He also definitely possesses the mentality of a catcher.:
“I was catching and I took a couple of foul balls off my arms and legs and I wasn’t having it. I didn’t like it,” Jansen recalls as a nine year old little-leaguer catching balls during batting practice. “Came out of the cage and my dad was like ‘You want to go back in there?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ And that’s when he said, that’s the defining moment.”
That certainly wasn’t the last time Jansen has been hurt. An Illinois native and Cubs fan growing up, Jansen was ready to be drafted in the first round of the June 2013 draft, but a broken wrist bone suffered during the third game of his senior year caused some teams to back off. The Blue Jays took him in the 16th round, giving him a $100,000 signing bonus.
Jansen was then plagued by injuries early in his professional career. His 2014 season with the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalacian League was limited to just 146 plate appearances due to a knee injury, while his playing time with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2015 was also limited due to a broken bone in his left hand. Despite these setbacks, Jansen was impressive at the plate. His 0.86 BB/K with the Lugnuts was tenth in the Midwest League that season and he once again earned a promotion to the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays in 2016. Once again, Jansen suffered an injury, this time a broken hamate bone in his left wrist, causing him to miss two months of the season. As so often happens with that type of injury, Jansen’s offense suffered.
“Just seeing the reaction that Chris got…in front of 40,000 people in Toronto…I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to have that same reaction.”
Finally free of injury, Jansen has enjoyed his most successful season to date. Across all three levels of play, he has demonstrated impeccable plate discipline to the tune of a 1.05 BB/K, while hitting with above-average power (.166 ISO). However, Jansen credits simplifying his approach as the key to his offensive success this season.
“I owe it to just clearing my mind. The last two years I’ve gotten into the trap of trying to think about mechanics all the time, trying to go out and see other people’s swings and trying to do it in the cage the next day,” Jansen said of his past approach. “This year I came into spring training and I said I’m just going to limit my mechanics. Just let my hands do what they want to do, work on my lower half and just compete.”
Aside from the absence of injury and a new approach, Jansen’s success this season has also been aided by a prescription for eyeglasses to correct an astigmatism. Jansen wears glasses both on and off the field, citing the fact that he has “never been good at putting stuff in [his] eyes” as the reason he’s opted for glasses over contacts while playing. They also provide the added bonus of keeping dirt out of his eyes.
Whether or not Jansen is one of the September call-ups remains to be seen, but he’ll no doubt be given an extensive look come spring training. He hopes to one day walk off the field to the sound of cheering fans as his good friend Chris Rowley did after his first game in Toronto.
“Just seeing the reaction that Chris got after his start, and just playing in front of 40,000 people in Toronto, it’s an amazing experience for him. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to have that same reaction. I just can’t even imagine how cool that’ll be.”
It may not come this season, but one day soon Jansen will have the opportunity to find out just how cool that is for himself.
Special thanks to the Buffalo Bisons and Danny Jansen for allowing both the filming and audio recording.
Lead Photo © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports