Jansen, pulling more, is unleashing his power

Catcher's 7th homer in 16 games continues trend from '21 as Blue Jays win 7th straight

June 2nd, 2022

TORONTO -- When is it safe to believe in a breakout? 

 has been reborn as a power hitter, a sudden and startling development after five years in the big leagues and a decade in the organization. Jansen could always hit well for a catcher, but now he’s the hottest bat in a lineup stuffed with stars.

It’s easy to dream on late bloomers in Toronto, too. This is the city where José Bautista went from a fringe player to baseball’s most feared hitter. Edwin Encarnación went from a flawed third baseman to a battering ram at DH. Josh Donaldson realized the height of his talents and became an MVP. Justin Smoak shook off years of top-prospect disappointment to become an All-Star. You don’t need to reach far for any of these.

Wednesday’s three-run shot, Jansen’s seventh in just 16 games this season, led the Blue Jays to a 7-3 win over the White Sox at Rogers Centre for their seventh consecutive victory. Stories like Bautista’s are the ultimate rarity which MLB front offices obsess over finding and rarely do. But all of these stories have something in common.

Breakouts don’t sustain themselves by accident. Luck always runs out. The jump from hot streak to a new player happens when there’s a “why,” a reason behind it all.

For Jansen, that started as a mental shift. Recognizing that his strength is to the pull side, Jansen decided to chase that. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Hitting the ball hard to all fields is preached at every level of baseball, but Jansen is a fine example that the same development strategy can’t apply to every player.

“I’m getting out of my own way,” Jansen said. “The last couple years, struggling, I wouldn’t change anything about that. It’s helped me through the struggles, trying different things and seeing what’s worked for me. This is about going after my strengths and being confident and comfortable with that. I work the other way in the cage, but when the lights come on, I’m trying to do some damage.”

Sometimes, that hard-throwing reliever never learns a changeup. Sometimes, the power hitter doesn’t need to spray the ball around.

Jansen isn’t regressing into a one-trick wonder that teams can shift to death, though. His contact profile is a more natural result now, not a forced outcome.

“It hasn’t really shown in the last couple of weeks, but I think I also hit the ball the other way better when I have this mindset,” Jansen said. “I think I have in the past. Over the years, I was trying to find hits in every part of the field instead of just going to my strength. Having some pull power helps, and I’m just trying to do damage with that.”

Jansen’s turnaround didn’t begin in 2022, either, which is important to projecting any of this. It began nine months ago, when Jansen’s career was approaching a crossroads. In late July of ‘21, Jansen hit the injured list with a right hamstring strain after hitting .176 with a .595 OPS. The organization’s trust in Jansen as a defender and rotation leader has never wavered, but those numbers won’t work in an everyday role.

When Jansen returned on Aug. 31, something changed. In 21 games down the stretch, he hit .322 with seven home runs.

“Since last year, he’s one of the best catchers in baseball,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who has long been one of Jansen’s biggest supporters.

Since that point in 2021, Jansen has done two things significantly better. He has mashed fastballs, and he has hit the ball in the air. Entering play Wednesday, 47.5 percent of Jansen’s contact resulted in fly balls, well above his career average of 28 percent. When you combine that with hard contact, which Jansen is producing plenty of, good things happen.

There are miles to go before we can safely deem this “sustainable” for Jansen, of course. His surge is no longer a secret, so it’s now the pitchers’ turn to make an adjustment to him. Changes can bring new strengths, but also open up new vulnerabilities in a swing, so the back-and-forth is just beginning.

Jansen’s hot stretch comes for a reason, though. This isn’t about the baseball off his bat finding holes. He has earned every bit of this run, giving the Blue Jays one of baseball’s most talented catching groups alongside the streaking Alejandro Kirk and No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno.

With each home run that Jansen yanks over the wall, he’ll be one step closer to giving the Blue Jays another late-blooming star. They tend to like those here.