The Toronto Blue Jays possess two talented catching prospects in Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, with each player performing well in 2019 and showing us why they should deserve time behind the plate next season.
Before the start of the 2019 season, veteran catcher Russell Martin was dealt away to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and prospect Danny Jansen was given the starting catcher role with the Toronto Blue Jays.
His rookie season in the big leagues was impressive defensively, throwing out 31% of players stealing and being nominated for a Gold Glove award at the position. His bat was a bit lacklustre with a 207/.279/.360 slash line, but he did hammer out 13 home runs and was healthy all season long.
Given the merry-go-round of starting pitchers he had to deal with in 2019, I would say Jansen had a productive and successful rookie campaign even with the less than stellar offensive stat line. He would start the most games for the team at this position (94) and caught a majority of the pitching staff throughout the entire year. There are some areas that could be improved upon this off-season, but that can also be said for most of the young players on the current Blue Jays roster.
Jansen’s back-up last year was Luke Maile, who was non-tendered by the Blue Jays this off-season and has gone on to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2020 campaign. In mid-July, Maile was sent to the injured list because of an oblique injury and this IL stint allowed Reese McGuire, another Blue Jays catching prospect, an opportunity to gain some experience at the MLB level.
In just 30 games last season, McGuire showed flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively with the Toronto Blue Jays.
His slash line was impressive at .299/.346/.526 and he was able to crank out five home runs, 11 RBI and 29 hits in just 97 at-bats. He was also very useful defensively, throwing out 26% of players stealing and was not a defensive liability when behind home plate.
Although the amount of MLB games McGuire has played in is still below the 50 mark, the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays are in a rebuilding phase could present the Seattle, Washington native a legitimate opportunity to get increased exposure over the next few seasons. One could argue the sample size is too small to judge McGuire’s long-term potential, but the only way to find out is to keep penciling him into the lineup and seeing how he produces.
With Maile out of the picture and no indication from the front office of any significant future free agent signings for the catcher position, it appears that the Blue Jays will head into spring training with both Jansen and McGuire most likely making the opening day active roster.
Having two young players like Jansen and McGuire can be a blessing for the Blue Jays organization, as the catcher position is one of the more labour intensive areas in baseball with the consistent kneeling, foul tip bruises, aggressive plays at the plate, and constant involvement with every pitch towards home.
With two solid catching prospects, the Blue Jays have a few different options when it comes to how they want to utilize the catcher position over the next few years.
Manager Charlie Montoyo has already stated that there will be a competition for the everyday starting position next season, but there are other scenarios he could use with his young players if he so chooses.
The first idea follows Montoyo’s narrative of seeing one of these prospects emerge as the starter and relegate the other as a backup, which is what Blue Jays fans are used to seeing from the organization since Russell Martin joined the team.
If one of these two prospects starts to outperform the other in spring training and/or to start the season, Montoyo could use that player as the everyday starter, which keeps the better player on the field for a majority of the games throughout the season. This would be more labour intensive for the particular starting player, but could produce the results needed to win more games.
Another option is to have Jansen and McGuire create a tandem which sees each player work with certain starting pitchers over the course of the year. This would allow the catching prospects necessary rest days to ensure they are healthy for the entire season but also develop potentially stronger catcher/pitcher relationships, which could result in more quality starts and innings from the Jays starting core.
This scenario could go either way depending on whether the pitchers/catchers synchronize well and are on the same wave length, and would also require both catchers are playing well enough to give the manager confidence to pencil them into the starting lineup when their specific pitcher is on the mound. This option is presumably a higher risk, but could yield a higher reward if everyone gels accordingly.
There is also the option of trading away one of the catching prospects in order to shore up other needs or areas on the team. After the recent signings this off-season to the starting rotation and at first base, the only real need(s) the Blue Jays currently have is possibly another centre fielder/outfield option, and some added bullpen depth.
Depending on who you ask, this can either be a significant need(s) or something that isn’t a worry given the teams current roster and farm depth. I personally don’t think the previously mentioned needs are great enough that the Blue Jays should trade away one of these catching prospects right now (key word), but it’s not my call in the end.
While both of these players don’t have a significant amount of MLB experience as of yet, Jansen and McGuire still have quite a few years left in terms of contract control, which is worth its weight in gold in today’s baseball market. According to Spotrac, both players are still under team control and are not eligible for free agency until 2025.
While Jansen and McGuire have been playing well in their short amount of time in the MLB, I wouldn’t say they are so valuable that the Tampa Bay Rays would go out tomorrow and trade Blake Snell for either one of them in a 1 for 1 deal, but a package built around one of these players could net a serious return if the Blue Jays management chooses to go this route (use your imagination if you want).
If both players perform well over the next two years, the trade scenario makes a lot more sense because there is the potential for an increased/better return because the specific catcher is more experienced with still years of control left on the contract (again, use your imagination).
If I had to personally choose a scenario that the Blue Jays should follow, I prefer having both players on the active roster and would like to see both McGuire and Jansen be given an opportunity to compete with the team versus seeing one of them traded away.
The catcher position is an abusive position and injuries can occur at anytime of the year, so having the extra security of a competent backup/secondary catcher is a better asset than having an inexperienced or poorly performing player if the sudden need arises.
In terms of the specific scenario, I am a bit more old school and would like to see one of these players emerge as the everyday starter, as I am an advocate for having two players compete against each other and seeing who comes out on top.
The starting player should not always feel like their job is guaranteed everyday, and if the so called backup player starts to perform well, they should earn more time in the lineup. This keeps both players trying to get better over the course of the season and benefits the team overall in the end in the form of more runs on the board and the best defensive wall/arm on the field (hopefully).
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This scenario is heavily dependant on both Jansen and McGuire going out and producing consistently next season, in that this scenario goes out the window if both players comes out swinging for a .150 AVG or can’t throw a runner out at second during the dog days of Summer.
Blue Jays fans are well aware that big trades can happen at anytime throughout the year, but I would be really surprised if the Blue Jays don’t give Jansen and McGuire an equal chance behind the plate these next few rebuilding years to see who could be the main catcher after the dust eventually settles.
I would hate to see the Blue Jays front office jump the gun and trade away one of these two prospects only to be three years down the road and having the catcher traded away be outperforming the player the Blue Jays kept.
Regardless of the outcome, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking pretty solid at the catching position for the next few years, and both players may find themselves in Toronto for quite some time if they keep performing well during the rebuilding years.