BUFFALO — In the eyes of Toronto Blue Jays decision-makers, Danny Jansen is no longer a prospect. He’s past that point.
Of course, that may sound odd given the 23-year-old Buffalo Bisons catcher has never played a major-league game and currently ranks as the No. 6 prospect in the organization, per MLB Pipeline.
We’ll let Ben Cherington, Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations, explain.
“The way we see it is when you get to triple-A you’re no longer a prospect,” Cherington says. “There’s no such thing as a prospect in triple-A. You’re either ready to contribute to the big leagues or you’re not. So, once you’re here, it’s really a question of when you’ve accomplished enough toward your goals to be ready and then, when does an opportunity come up?
“Sometimes those things don’t happen at the same time. But when they do, he’s got a chance to go up and help our team.”
Jansen blazed through the farm system last season and now sits just behind major-league catchers Russell Martin and Luke Maile on the organizational depth chart. He’s simply fine-tuning specific aspects of his game as he awaits an opening on the Blue Jays roster.
“It’s hard to say when that will be, but he’s doing his part,” says Cherington.
Here’s a closer look at where Jansen’s progression stands, from the vantage points of the people around him on a daily basis.
Bisons pitching coach Bob Stanley sets a plan for Jansen and the team’s pitchers before every series. It’s a blueprint on how they should attack hitters and lately, Stanley hasn’t had to take charge.
“Overall, he’s done it himself,” Stanley says. “He’s really learned a lot in terms of calling games. He’ll ask questions once in a while, but … He’s getting better and better.”
Improving on that has been a goal for Jansen since spring training. He chatted often with Martin and Maile during camp and even had the chance to scrutinize video with them. One area of particular focus has been helping the Buffalo staff make stronger set-up pitches.
“It’s come a long way over the years,” Jansen says of his game calling. “There’s always room for improvement. The game always changes, so you have to be changing as well. But it feels pretty good right now.”
Left-hander Ryan Borucki, who has known Jansen since 2014, dating back to their days in rookie ball, takes it one step further.
“Really good. He’s been progressing. I’ve seen him since Bluefield when we both didn’t really know what we were doing,” Borucki says. “Now, he really calls a big-league game.”
Additionally, the Blue Jays feel Jansen has adapted well to the challenge of working with older pitchers. Veterans with MLB experience permeate triple-A rosters, while in the lower levels, catchers essentially work with players their own age.
“Now, he’s here with guys five, six, seven years older than him sometimes,” Cherington says. “That’s a new challenge and he’s doing really, really well with it. He’s focused on it. He’s such a genuine person and works so hard and cares. Guys pretty quickly see that from him and see that he’s putting the pitcher first and their game first and people respond to that.
“That’s just something new that he’s experiencing for the first time in triple-A and doing well with.”
It’s been well documented that Jansen transformed as an offensive player in 2017 after he began wearing glasses. Last season’s success has continued into the early stages of this campaign: Jansen is hitting .313/.408/.500 with two home runs and four doubles through 18 games.
Knowing that he has been able to carry his newfound success through the winter affords some peace of mind to the right-handed batter.
“It’s not like it was a hoax or something last year because of my glasses,” says Jansen.
Perhaps what stood out most about his success at the dish was his remarkable discipline. He walked more times (41) than he struck out (40) last year, and so far in 2018, he’s recorded eight walks against 10 strikeouts.
“When the pitcher is dictating what you’re swinging at, it’s not good,” says Bisons manager Bobby Meacham. “But when you’re able to be disciplined enough to attack the pitches you can handle and lay off the other ones, that’s when you become a valuable hitter and that’s what he’s doing more and more. He’s getting better and better at it. He’s not guessing.
“He’s not just treating every pitch the same. He’s treating it like, ‘I’m going to swing at my pitch until I get two strikes.’ And that’s why he’s been a good hitter up until now.”
Borucki, one of the Blue Jays’ top pitching prospects, is a year older than Jansen. The two have a long history in the organization — Jansen caught Borucki at three levels last season — and are close friends.
Jansen has been working on improving the mechanics of his craft behind the plate — footwork, throwing, framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. He’s honest and forthright with his pitchers, but what really impresses Borucki is that Jansen internalizes their work. For example, the left-hander struggled through an outing last week, allowing six runs on six hits and three walks over five innings. Their game plan simply wasn’t up to par, according to Borucki, and afterward, Jansen was perturbed.
“It’s like if I struggle, he struggles,” says Borucki. “He feels like we’re in it together. It’s a good thing when a pitcher and catcher have that relationship. When I do good, we both feel the same way.”
At the moment, it would likely take an injury or unforeseen circumstance with Martin or Maile to warrant a promotion to Toronto for Jansen. However, the Blue Jays appreciate the detail and seasoning he’s massaging to the edges of his game. While Jansen may not be considered a “prospect” by the organization, the prospect of him being a meaningful big-league contributor is enticing.
“He’s a great teammate and that’s important to him,” says Cherington. “To be a great teammate and have a positive influence on the people around him is also something you see on winning teams in the big leagues.
“He certainly has a lot of qualities that I’ve seen in successful major-league players on winning teams.”