MONTREAL -- Danny Jansen is more than ready to start his first Opening Day on a Major League roster -- he’s ecstatic.
After six years down on the farm, plagued with fluke injuries and setbacks, the homegrown Blue Jays product is embracing the opportunity he’s been given as the team’s starting catcher.
“It’s very different,” Jansen said. “That’s what everybody dreams of, and I don’t take it for granted at all. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team win at any cost and try to get better.”
The 23-year-old Wisconsin native’s quest to get better has been repeatedly hindered. Before being selected in the 16th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Jansen was knocked out of his senior season at Appleton West when he took a foul tip off his left pisiform bone -- though he did end up joining his team for playoffs, competing with his cast on.
During his rookie season the following year, Jansen tore his left meniscus and partially tore his left ACL while stepping on home plate. In Low A just one year later, Jansen broke his left hand when he was hit by a bat while catching. In 2016, he broke his hamate bone in the same wrist while with the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays.
Now, Jansen is healthy, and mentally and physically prepared for the grind of a 162-game Major League season.
“I feel good, I feel really excited and I’m very anxious to get going,” he said. “I’m very excited, very happy, and I’m just looking to keep learning and keep getting better. I’ve got Luke Maile with me, who I look up to and look to work with all the time and ask questions to and just fire stuff away at him, and I’m grateful to have that, and I’m just excited to get going.”
To prepare for what lay ahead, Jansen has been under the guidance of John Schneider, who was also the catcher’s manager during his Draft year in the Gulf Coast League and for half of the 2017 season in Dunedin. Schneider was added to the Major League coaching staff this offseason, and has focused his spring on working with the team’s catchers.
“The biggest thing [we’ve worked on] is dissecting information from a scouting report standpoint,” Schneider said. “That will be different for him this year, taking the lead. So that part of it we’ve been doing behind the scenes. But the actual, physical work is a lot of emphasis on his throwing."
Jansen caught five of 33 attempted basestealers over 29 game with the Blue Jays last season. This spring, Jansen has caught three of eight in 15 games.
Working with a starting staff that likes to work in the lower half of the strike zone, Schneider and Jansen have also fine-tuned the catcher's mechanics behind the plate in order to play to the pitchers' strengths.
“We’ve worked on really getting as good as he can get on receiving the low pitch,” Schneider said. “With the guys we have on the staff -- [Aaron Sanchez], [Marcus] Stroman, Clayton Richard -- guys who live down in the zone, it’s really about finding the best way to attack that low strike.”
Added Jansen: “It’s been a subtle move for me with my glove, like a glove flip -- kind of bringing my thumb up. It also helps that I’m not as [rigid]. Last year, I was really [extended out] trying to get that low ball instead of being close to my body and just being an athlete. So I’ve been doing a lot of things like that.
“It feels really good. I feel like where I’m at receiving-wise is the best I’ve been.”
Heading into the Blue Jays’ final exhibition game before Opening Day against the Tigers on Thursday, Jansen has batted .275/.310/.350 this spring, going 11-for-40 with a double and a triple, though much of his focus has been on his defense and getting to know his pitching staff.
“That’s the one challenge coming into spring,” Jansen said. “You’ve got to get to know those guys, get their trust, and there are a whole lot of arms. So it is a bit of a challenge. But everybody’s good dudes, and it’s a really fun challenge. You get to know them, get to work with them, go to battle with them, and that’s awesome stuff.”
Added Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo: “He had a great training camp, and a lot of credit [goes] to John Schneider, who worked hard with him. He’s been throwing to the bases; his times to second base are also very good. I’m very happy with how he’s playing.”