Toronto Blue Jays: Danny Jansen facing stiff internal competition
Known for his defence behind the plate, catcher Danny Jansen first made his debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 as a mid-August call up when the Blue Jays also had veteran Russell Martin on the roster.
When Martin was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 2019 season, Jansen was essentially handed the primary catching role and preformed pretty well while handling a majority of the catching duties.
His slash line wasn’t eye-popping at .207/.279/.360 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI, and a .640 OPS, it was his defensive ability that really shined through, where he would finish the year with a .995% fielding percentage and a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at 12, while also throwing out 31% of base stealers and earning a gold glove nomination in the process.
The 2020 season was a bit of a step back for the right-hander, as his slash line would drop to .183/.313/.358 while also contributing 6 home runs, 20 RBI, and a .671 OPS in 147 plate appearances. While his defence is usually his saving grace, his ability behind the plate also hit a rough patch as he saw his DRS drop to -4 and his percentage for catching base stealers drop to 23%.
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The pandemic shortened season is most likely a major contributor to the drop in stats, as he really didn’t get a chance to battle back and improve his slash line or his defence behind the plate.
This year, Jansen is once again entering the season as the primary catcher for the Blue Jays but there are a plethora of internal options who are hot on his heels if he produces another rough season.
While Reese McGuire most likely isn’t going to be contending for a platoon option like he was last season (currently contending for a roster spot at the moment), the Blue Jays also have Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno, and Riley Adams within the farm system who could potentially be major league contributors within the next few years.
Kirk is most likely Jansen’s biggest competitor at the moment as he did gain some MLB experience with the team last season, but Moreno and Adams both have some upside and could be legitimate contenders for a roster spot on the Blue Jays within the next 2-3 years.
While he was a mid-season call-up last year, Kirk was brought up for his bat rather than his defence, and he would go on to slash .375/.400/.583 with one home run, three RBI, and a .983 OPS in just 25 plate appearances over nine games.
Considering his highest level of professional baseball before being called up to the Blue Jays roster was in the A league, this spring training will be interesting to see if the organization gives him a shot at the roster again as the backup catcher or if they want to develop him more in the MiLB (as there is a minor league season being planned for this year).
In the Blue Jays depth charts and prospect rankings, all five catchers are on the 40 man roster (meaning they could potentially be called up to the majors) and Kirk leads the way at #6, followed by Moreno at #8 and Adams at #23. Both Kirk and Adams have estimated times of arrival for the MLB at 2021 (given Kirk played a small sample last season) while Moreno sits at 2022.
There is the potential that Kirk could be moved away from the catching position into more of 1B/DH role, but for now, it seems like the Blue Jays are going to utilize him as a catcher/DH moving forward.
There is also a scenario where the Blue Jays could choose to trade Jansen for starting pitching, but that would most likely need another free agent signing or a catcher coming the opposite way given the other prospects are not necessarily ready to handle every-day catching roles. One could also argue that the Blue Jays could keep Jansen and give up either Kirk, Moreno, or Adams instead, which would signal that the organization does have faith in Jansen being the primary catcher for the time being.
There is no doubt that this upcoming season will be big for Danny Jansen, as another step back will not bode well for the Elmhurst, Illinois native and his potential future plans with the team. The Blue Jays already explored potential options in free agency with the likes of J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina (whether or not the interest was serious or not in either player) but the organization also has internal options who could be knocking on the MLB door within the next few years as well as options via trade (albeit slim options with how everyday type catchers are hard to come by nowadays).
While Jansen wouldn’t be cast aside given his potential and that he really only has 181 games to his name over three seasons, it is the fact the Blue Jays have other highly touted catching options that make it difficult for Jansen to keep his primary catching role if he struggles again this season.
While I wouldn’t say that Jansen is particularly on a short leash this year, a rough 2021 campaign could hurt his chances of becoming the Blue Jays primary option behind the plate moving forward. Kirk, Moreno, or Adams could start to make the catching situation a bit uncomfortable if they start to play well and Jansen is still struggling against MLB arms and having trouble behind the plate. The question(s) we face right now run more along the lines of:
-how will he perform this year while being the ‘go-to’ guy behind the plate once again?
-what to do if he struggles this season in terms of the long term goal(s) for the Blue Jays?
That being said, unless the Blue Jays sign Molina or trade for another veteran catcher, it appears that Jansen will be the go-to catcher for the team and will most likely catch a significant part of the season, giving himself a great opportunity to prove to the Blue Jays that he is the go-to guy behind the plate for the foreseeable future.