Jays From the Couch takes a close look at the prize backstop of the Toronto Blue Jays organization
The trademark symbol in this post’s title should point to the tongue in cheek nature of that declaration. Every team wants and needs a solid catcher for years to come. But the Blue Jays have had more than enough Catchers of the Future over the last decade—J.P. Arencibia, Travis D’Arnaud and Max Pentecost—to make fans wary of getting too attached, too soon.
Caveats aside, Danny Jansen seems as sure a bet for the role as anyone Jays fans have seen in recent years. Back in February, I wrote a similarly gushing post, reviewing the countless reasons to be excited about Jansen’s potential. About a third of the way through the AAA season, Jansen has only reinforced that optimism.
First, let’s start with the external scouting agencies. Preseason, only Fangraphs had Jansen in their Top 100 list, though many had him in the Blue Jays’ Top 10. Over on MLB Pipeline, Jansen has risen to fifth among catching prospects. And today, Baseball America released their first in-season update and have Jansen as the 96th best prospect in the minor leagues (subscribers only).
His AAA production makes it clear why there is increasing enthusiasm around him. Let’s focus on all batters who have had at least 150 PA at AAA over the last season and a third. Jansen is an on-base machine, with one of the top OBP and a very strong AVG, while his decent pop shines through in his strong SLG. Put it all together and you have the seventh-best overall hitting production at the highest level of the minors, in terms of wRC+.
The main caveat here is Jansen’s relatively limited sample size—his plate appearances rank in the bottom quarter of sampled batters. More high-quality plate appearances would go some way to solidifying our optimism for Jansen.
That said, Jansen’s brand of hitting doesn’t revolve around a few hot streaks per season. If it did, an excellent 59-game performance at AAA might not be a good indicator of his future. Instead, this kid produces day in and day out. Case in point: Jansen has gotten a hit or a walk in 52 of his 59 games at AAA (88%) and produced a wRC+ of 100 or more in 34 games (58%). For context, Buster Posey (the best offensive catcher in the majors since 2010) got a hit or a walk in 74 of his 82 games at AAA (90%) and produced a wRC+ of 100 or more in 43 games (52%).
When I last wrote about Jansen, I highlighted the fact that Chris Mitchell (formerly of FanGraphs, currently employed in a secret job in baseball) found three stats to be strong indicators of big-league success: ISO, BABIP and K%. Guys that succeed in the minors by hitting for power, turning balls in play into hits and avoiding strikeouts are more likely to perform well in the majors.
Jansen checks all of these boxes. With more than 200 AAA plate appearances under his belt, Jansen has maintained an above-average ISO, a well-above average BABIP and an exceptionally low K%. His strong ISO and BABIP seems most driven by his ability to hit line drives—at the AAA level, Jansen has produced a 24.8% line drive rate, putting him in the 91st percentile.
These strengths are reflected in BA’s comments on Jansen (h/t to @_ClintB_): “Jansen’s success stems from excellent strike-zone judgment. He walked (41) more often than he struck out (40) because he tracks pitches well, has a disciplined approach and doesn’t chase much off the plate, enabling himself to get into advantageous counts and draw walks to get on base. Jansen makes frequent contact with a pull-minded, line-drive approach and enough power to hit 10-15 home runs.”
Clearly, Jansen’s plate discipline is the centrepiece of his batting profile. At the AAA level, both his walk and strikeout rates rank in the Top 10% of AAA batters. Unsurprisingly, his walk-to-strikeout ratio ranks in the Top 1% of AAA batters. Underlying this is a virtual inability to whiff on pitches. He swings and misses on only 4.1% of the pitches he sees, again ranking in the Top 1% of AAA batters. Importantly, these are strengths he showed at High-A and AA in 2017, so sustainability shouldn’t be a concern.
For one last illustration of Jansen’s extraordinary potential as a catcher who can hit in the majors, let’s compare his AAA career (thus far) to that of Buster Posey. Just to get ahead of some potential commenters, I’m not saying that Jansen will be Posey. They are two separate human beings and baseball players. However, if you can produce as well at the plate, at the highest level of the minors and at the same age, as the best hitting catcher of the 2010s, that’s a very positive sign that you will have major-league success of your own.
In about two-thirds of the plate appearances, Danny Jansen has produced a superior AAA wRC+ than Buster Posey did. Jansen’s time at AAA has occurred during the latter part of his age-22/early part of his age-23 seasons. Posey’s time at AAA (2009-10) also occurred during the latter part of his age-22/early part of his age-23 seasons.
There’s a lot of overlap in how they generated their production at the plate, though subtle differences exist. They both produced above-average power (ISO) and an exceptional BABIP, with Posey having a slight edge in both. They both produced elite walk and strikeout rates, with Jansen having a slight edge in both this time. Finally, while Posey produced a better-than-average SwStr%, Jansen is nearly without peer in that regard.
After getting our hopes up a few times, Jays fans should feel more confident than ever that the team is in great shape at the catcher’s position for the foreseeable future. Danny Jansen appears to have all the tools necessary to be a starting catcher in the big leagues, both at and behind the plate. He’s worked his butt off since getting drafted five years ago, a necessary process for any high school catching prospect. Sooner or later, he will get the opportunity to continue his growth at the major-league level with the Toronto Blue Jays.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.