Blue Jays: Is Danny Jansen the starting catcher of the future?
Entering the 2021 season, there was no doubt that Danny Jansen was going to be the Toronto Blue Jays go-to guy behind the plate. Even with the emergence of fellow catching prospect Alejandro Kirk last season, Jansen is always catching when Hyun-Jin Ryu is on the mound and has appeared in 13 of the 18 games the Blue Jays have played this season.
Making his major league debut in late 2018, Jansen has been the Blue Jays primary catcher since 2019, taking over when veteran Russell Martin was traded away during the organization’s rebuilding years. While the catcher has been more known for his defensive abilities, earning a gold glove nomination in 2019, the righty slugger has really struggled in the batter’s box since donning the Blue Jays jersey, crafting a career .200/.290./356 slash line over 660 plate appearances with 22 home runs and 71 RBI.
The 2021 season is just over three weeks old and Jansen is once again off to a rough start offensively. In 38 plate appearances, Jansen has a .059/.158/.088 slash line with zero home runs, zero RBI, two hits with four walks. He also sports a .246 OPS and has struck out nine times, tallying just one extra-base hit so far this season. Defensively, the Wisconsin native sports a 1.000 fielding percentage while throwing out one runner on six chances so far this season, with some blame to be put on the pitching staff as quite a few steals were not physically possible for Jansen to get the runner out.
With Jansen struggling to find any consistency at the plate, one has to wonder if the Blue Jays truly consider the former 16th round pick as the organization’s starting catcher of the future.
While his defensive abilities are a notch above his counterparts, it is tough to watch him continue to struggle when he has a bat in his hands. Considering he has had two seasons to try and cement himself as the go-to guy behind the plate, the Jays possess quite a few catching prospects who have the potential to be major league catchers in Kirk, Riley Adams, and Gabriel Moreno (not to mention Reese McGuire also in the depth charts). Kirk is currently on the active roster and is also struggling to find the bat to the ball (albeit to inconsistent starts/at-bats) while Adams is most likely the next in line with Moreno a year or two away from knocking on the big league stage.
Even though he is struggling, are the Blue Jays going to toss aside Danny Jansen any time soon? Highly unlikely.
Could management start to make some tough decisions regarding who should be the primary catcher later on this season? Absolutely.
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There’s no question that Jansen will most likely finish the season as a Blue Jay but the leash has to be getting shorter and shorter as to how long management is willing to carry a starting catcher who cannot consistently keep his average over the Mendoza line. Jansen has been putting the ball in play versus striking out which is a positive thing to note, but his 27.8% hard-hit rate and 45.5% ground ball rate, 27.3% fly-ball rate, and 9.1% line drive rate indicate that he’s not getting quality at-bats and keeps hitting himself into outs. While his job is safe at the moment, the pressure will start to mount for the Blue Jays catcher if the likes of Adams or Moreno start to perform well when the minor league season opens up and if Kirk can string together some strong plate appearances in the backup capacity.
Part of me wants Jansen to be the Blue Jays full-time catcher because he does have the defence and athletic ability to contribute on the field but he just struggles so much at the plate that the pros and cons really have to be considered when it comes to carrying him on the roster for the long haul. Considering he was able to put the barrel on the ball back in the minor leagues (.323/.400/.484 in 2017), there is the potential that he could figure it out as the season moves on. If the other catching prospects start to play well later this year, you would have to think that the Blue Jays have to go with who is performing well overall, not just on defence.
The 2021 season is young so there is the possibility that Danny Jansen can turn a corner and string together some good at-bats to bring his slash line back up and contribute on both sides of the diamond. If he does continue to struggle in the batter’s box as the season wears on, the Blue Jays might have to make some tough decisions on who they want behind the plate for the foreseeable future.