It’s one step forward, two steps back for Danny Jansen, who was off to a blazing hot start
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
By Thomas Hall1 year ago
For any player, making progress at the highest level of competition is usually accompanied by plenty of hardship, and that’s no different for Toronto Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen. But just as it seemed he was turning a corner, he’s sustained another crushing setback.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s 12-6 loss to the Texas Rangers, Jansen felt some discomfort in his side and ultimately headed for an MRI a day later. Once his results returned, unfortunately, the team was forced into a very tough decision.
Prior to Monday’s series opener in the Bronx, Toronto placed Jansen on the 10-day injured list, recalling Tyler Heineman to serve as the club’s third catcher. To make room for Heineman on the 40-man roster, outfielder Josh Palacios – whose path to the majors is blocked by Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer – was designated for assignment.
Of all the times to suffer an injury, this latest one couldn’t have come at a worse moment for Jansen. Not only will he be on the shelf for at least 10 days, but all his early momentum that was generated is likely to be lost, as well.
Entering his fifth major league season, one of Jansen’s main focus points was developing into an improved overall backstop, particularly from an offensive standpoint. In a short time, the 26-year-old appeared to put himself on that trajectory with an encouraging start to the 2022 season.
As Opening Day began, most of the attention was directed to star position players like George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez and Matt Chapman. As it should’ve been. But everyone was quickly reminded of the franchise’s strength at catcher, too.
Showcasing his progress from the previous winter, Jansen earned a pair of hits – both featured exit velocities north of 100 m.p.h. – and a walk across his first four plate appearances of the season, including a 408-foot blast for his first home run of ’22.
Following up his impressive performance on Opening Day, Jansen’s next start behind the dish came during the series finale against Texas, where he enjoyed another 2-for-4 showing. Similar to the season opener, both his double and home run came off the bat at 100 m.p.h. or higher.
As he currently sits on the IL, so too does his eye-popping .571/.625/1.571 slash line. Granted, eight plate appearances are an extremely small sample size, though his underlying metrics suggest this might have been more than simply an early-season boost.
One of the biggest signs of optimism was Jansen’s newfound ability to generate hard contact. With all four of his hits recording an exit velocity of at least 100 m.p.h., his hard-hit rate soared to a new career-best (57.1 per cent) over his seven batted-ball events. That’s an increase of 13.8 per cent from ’21.
Digging deeper, Toronto’s 16th-round selection from the 2013 Draft barreled 12 balls last season, creating an 8.5 per cent barrel rate through 141 batted-ball events. This season, however, he’s already generated a pair of barrels, registering a 28.6 per cent clip – which would surpass his career-high of 8.6 per cent.
Previously known for his defence, Jansen’s offence may have finally arrived to the 21st century. It was certainly long overdue. In an era where producing hard contact has become second nature, this could’ve been his time to join that conversation, at least, as someone who could thrive in this area considerably more than in previous seasons.
Earlier this spring, increasing his power to left field – his pull side – was a major point of emphasis for Jansen and before landing on the IL, he was doing exactly that. Most notably, both of his home runs were hit over the left-field wall at Rogers Centre, with his other two hits going to opposite way.
Of the seven balls he’s put in play, four of them have been struck to the pull side, including a flyout and a groundout. The veteran backstop has been driving pitches much farther and harder to that side of the field, averaging 276 feet per event and a 92.8 m.p.h. exit velocity.
At times, Jansen has shown glimpses of his offensive potential in the past, although none of them have been as promising or productive as this most recent one. Sustaining these stretches has always been problematic, but given his improvements at the plate, this could’ve been the start of something special.
Adding to his red-hot start, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound catcher was also excelling with his plate discipline at the time of his injury. The Elmhurst, Illinois, native had yet to strike out, swung and missed just once on 12 swings and only chased twice at pitches outside the strike zone.
Now, rather than building off his remarkable efforts against the New York Yankees, Jansen will be watching from afar as the Blue Jays attempt to improve their 3-1 record.
Best case scenario: Jansen’s side/back injury isn’t serious and only requires him to miss a minimum of 10 days. This way, he wouldn’t be too far removed from his encouraging weekend performance and could potentially pick up almost exactly where he left off.
Considering his track record, though, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him miss extended time. After all, he was limited to just 70 games in ’21 due to knee and hamstring injuries.
In the meantime, teammate Alejandro Kirk will assume the starting duties behind the plate, allowing the 23-year-old to showcase both his offensive and defensive skills. Aside from Kirk, with top prospect Gabriel Moreno assigned to triple-A Buffalo, the only other two catchers on the active roster are Zack Collins and Heineman.
Since neither player is likely to provide much upside, chances are they won’t be seeing much action in the majors, of course, assuming Kirk remains healthy.
Until Jansen returns, everyone will be left to wonder about what could’ve been had he not gotten injured. It’s surely a difficult situation for the Blue Jays. As soon as they start to gain a little confidence in his offence, he’s shut down with an injury and can’t pick up a bat again for at least a week.
Perhaps Jansen will someday enjoy prolonged stretches of success in the batter’s box, sadly, any possibility of that outcome won’t be arriving for a little while longer.
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