Jordan Romano remembers the day he met Danny Jansen.
Way back in 2014, the two introduced themselves to each other before a game with the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League. The battery quickly went over signs and hopped right into action together in the eighth inning.
Romano, then 21 years old and nervous to join a new team, didn’t have his best stuff.
“I think the first batter I drilled in the spine,” Romano recalled. “And the next batter, I threw a slider about 50 feet, and I hit Jansen right in the neck.”
The young catcher was down for the count, and coaches went out to check on him, but he stayed in the game. That painful one-hop misfire by Romano wound up being the start of a long friendship for the two Blue Jays draft picks.
“After that, we joked about that stuff. And honestly, ever since then, we've been really good buddies,” Romano said. “That was our first bonding experience.”
The easygoing duo has made plenty of memories since then. Romano and Jansen traveled through the minor-league ranks together, with Jansen debuting in the majors a year before Romano in 2018. Now they live close to each other in the offseason; they golf together, and, most importantly, they close out games together in Toronto.
Romano knows Jansen better than a lot of people. He knows how good of a catcher Jansen is, and he was aware of Jansen’s hitting chops well before the rest of the league took notice.
“I think, with Jano, you're really seeing the player and the hitter he can be now,” Romano said. “Because this is no surprise — it might be for some people — but no surprise to me.”
Touted as a bat-first catcher all through the minors, Jansen is finally having the monstrous offensive stretch people expected from him. An oblique injury cost him a chunk of games, but in 15 contests this year, the 27-year-old is slashing .286/.348/.738 with six homers and nine RBIs. If you stretch back further, Jansen’s 1.078 OPS since Sept. 1 of last season is third best in MLB for players with at least 100 plate appearances.
The longball has been the kicker for Jansen this season. His clutch two-homer game in St. Louis on May 24 jumpstarted the Blue Jays' offence, which has since slugged its way to six straight wins.
So, what’s been the difference-maker for Jansen?
“I just think that it's the freedom that I feel like I have, as far as getting into that box, sticking to an approach, rather than some other thoughts of different things slipping into my mind,” Jansen said.
The Jays catcher said he still tinkers with his hitting preparation depending on who the opposing starting pitcher is and how they might attack him. But with the swing itself, he’s learned to keep things simple — get the bat head out and be aggressive on hard stuff. If that results in a pull-heavy approach, so be it.
“My swing is my swing. I’m going out there and just hunting pitches,” he said. “Freedom.”
Freedom. A clear mind. Into his fifth year in the big leagues, Jansen is embracing these two elements, and his confidence is as high as it’s ever been at this level. It’s been a bumpy process to push Jansen to this point, though.
“It's funny, we always told him to swing more in the minor leagues,” said Jays bench coach John Schneider, who first managed Jansen in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. “He was very patient. So, I've been on him for what feels like 10 years about that.
“I think that the best version of him is not trying to pull the ball, but just allowing himself to use that strength.”
Jansen’s offensive evolution is even more impressive when you consider how he’s battled injuries, inconsistency, and handled a revolving door of pitchers, all while learning the ropes as a catcher, baseball’s most challenging defensive position.
“We asked a lot of him when he came up in 2018 and ‘19 with different pitchers and running a pitching staff and doing all that stuff,” Schneider, a minor-league catcher for six years, said. “Hitting was always in the back seat.
“So for him to persevere and be really patient with the whole part of his game coming together has been impressive, because he can separate the two really, really well.”
Separating offence and defence is a critical virtue if a ball player wants to survive in The Show, especially as a catcher. Schneider said Jansen has some distinct quirks for moving from one discipline to the other — you’ll see Jansen pause for a second to set himself as he readies his warm-up throw down to second between innings.
When his chest protector is off, he’s a hitter. But as soon as that thing clicks on, Jansen transforms into a leader charged with guiding his pitching staff and dictating the flow of the game. As a catcher, if the worlds collide and you’re managing your pitching staff well and hitting the cover off the ball, there’s no better feeling in the world.
Jansen is riding that high right now, and Schneider couldn’t be any prouder.
“Me and my wife joke, he's like our third son, he's like our oldest son,” Schneider said, smiling. “But it's really fulfilling when you see a guy put in the work and really invent and then reinvent himself and not be afraid to challenge himself.
“With all these guys that have come through the minors that I've seen, there’s nothing better than to watch [Jansen] go out and perform and do well in the big leagues.”
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