The Blue Jays locked up their catching position for five seasons by signing Russell Martin last November. While it feels good knowing the organization filled a position of need on their big league roster, fans still need to be prepared for the day Martin’s contract expires.
Who will fill that void?
While there are many names being tossed around the Blue Jays minor league system, one player who seems to be generating a lot of buzz these days is Danny Jansen, and rightfully so, as the Wisconsin native is an up-and-coming prospect who has all the tools to be a major league talent if he can sustain the kind of success he has enjoyed at the lower levels of the Blue Jays minor league system.
Jansen’s rise through the system really took off in 2014 with the Bluefield Blue Jays. Carrying an impressive .282/.390/.484 slash line at the plate to go along with his excellent .991 fielding percentage behind the dish, Jansen showed fans exactly why the organization is so high on his future.
Many followers of the Blue Jays minor league system expected Jansen to jump over the short season Vancouver Canadians to join the low-A Lansing Lugnuts’ this April. The prospect did just that and is quickly showing his athletic ability behind the plate as the Lugnuts’ number one catcher.
Joining a full season club out of spring training is always exciting for a professional baseball player, but the chance to move up to the Midwest League had a special appeal to Jansen, who is a native of Appleton, Wisconsin, home of the league’s Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a team his family had a strong connection with while Jansen was growing up.
“It was an awesome moment when I found out I was coming to Lansing,” stated Jansen. “I knew I needed to lock it in and focus on playing five months of baseball. I know I have to grind along and take it one day at a time.”
“Growing up in Appleton we hosted Timber Rattlers players,” he added. “I definitely understood the professional experience from going to Timber Rattlers games and having guys at our house. It’s really cool that I’m able to do what those players did. It’s a dream come true.”
Another great aspect for Jansen is the close proximity for his family. In fact, Jansen’s parents made the trip to Michigan’s capital to see their son play during the Lugnuts’ opening home series versus the Lake County Captains. But as much as he loved their support that weekend he says it doesn’t end there as his family is always tuned in to every game online.
“The family support when I’m here is outstanding. My family eats and sleeps baseball,” said Jansen. “My brother, dad, and mom are always listening to every game. They haven’t missed one yet. I’ll call them afterwards and just talk about baseball. They have so much support for me. I’m very thankful for all of it.”
Obviously, with catching being a defense-first position, there is no surprise that Jansen takes great pride in his ability to block pitches in the dirt and throw out potential base stealers. While these are areas he excels at, there’s another spot in his defensive game that needs a little work and that is calling a good game for the pitchers.
“Being able to block the baseballs in the dirt is my best attribute as a catcher,” explained Jansen. “It’s great; because I can call any pitch I want and know I can block it. I’m still learning how to call a game as I’m still a little young in that area. But my skipper Ken Huckaby is helping me there. The best parts of my defensive game are the physical sides of catching. Blocking, catching, and throwing are where I excel the most behind the plate.”
Even though Jansen is still mastering the craft of calling a great game every outing, there is another area of working with the pitchers that he has zero issues. This aspect is managing the pitching staff, a skill that is sometimes overlooked by baseball enthusiasts, but it’s very important as you need your catchers and pitchers to trust one another to find continued success throughout the season.
“I feel good working with our pitching staff,” said Jansen. “I came up through the system with a lot of these guys in Lansing, as well as working with them in spring training. I have built a pretty good relationship with all of them. Some of the guys on the team are a little newer, but I know they trust me and I trust them to make the right pitch. It’s awesome working with all of the pitchers on this team.”
Having the opportunity to witness the way Jansen works with all the pitchers on the staff, Lugnuts’ pitching coach Jeff Ware has nothing but admiration for the way the 20-year-old catcher handles a leadership role at such a young age.
“Danny does a nice job working with our pitchers,” stated Ware. “Danny understands he’s the captain out there. He gets everybody rallied behind him. He’s vocal and it’s not easy being a catcher because he needs to hit and manage the pitching staff. I think so far he has done really well. He works hard and is eager to learn so he can get better at his position.”
The part of the game that can separate a good catcher from a great one is his ability at the plate. Finding success at the dish has never been an issue for Jansen as he registered 15 extra base hits (ten doubles and five home runs) last season in Bluefield.
Stumbling a little bit out of the gate this season in Lansing, Jansen was barreling the ball up the first week of the season, but it wasn’t finding the gaps to get through for hits. Some of his first-week struggles came about due to him not using his typical plate approach, but once he switched back to his old technique the hits started to come back to him.
Getting the monkey off his back by hitting a 340-foot home run at Dow Diamond on April 17, Jansen came to the plate just looking to reach base, after hitting a high fly ball to left field that sent Dodgers prospect Jacob Scavuzzo to the wall looking to make a play, but he ran out of room and Jansen picked up a clutch hit that gave him a lot of confidence moving forward.
Happy he decided to hunker down and focus on the plate approach that brought him past success, Jansen feels that is just the beginning of many hits he will collect while wearing a Lansing Lugnuts’ uniform.
“My plate approach is good. I kind of got away from it a little bit earlier this year, but I’m back to doing what I have been in the past to find success,” stated Jansen. “It felt great getting my first hit of the season. I really needed that hit and now that I got it. I feel great and I’m going to keep plugging along the rest of the season. I feel my at-bats will keep getting better. It was a big confidence boost for sure.”
Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays certainly hope he is right as they keep their eye on this talented young catcher all season and for years to come.