Get used to hearing plenty about Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk, the catching duo the Toronto Blue Jays look set to employ in 2023.
After the Jays sent Gabriel Moreno, one of the top catching prospects in baseball, to the Arizona Diamondbacks, it seems as if Kirk will see an expanded role in the upcoming season, something that could be pivotal in his still-young career. At the age of 23, Kirk had a 2022 season to remember, making the American League All-Star team, piling up nearly two million votes in phase one of fan voting, and winning the AL Silver Slugger at the catcher position.
With the twig in his hands, Kirk did some serious damage, but did so without lofty home run numbers, unlike many of the most popular members of the Jays in recent history. At the dish, Kirk proved to have one of the best eyes in baseball, joining an elite group of six qualified players – including Juan Soto, Alex Bregman, Luis Arraez, Steven Kwan, and Yandy Díaz – who walked more than they struck out. The Tijuana, Mexico native walked 63 times, while striking out just 58 times, finishing with an on-base percentage of .372.
At the plate, it’s beyond evident that Kirk can contribute, but now without Moreno to take some of the defensive pressure off, Kirk may have to play more behind the dish, potentially a cause for concern.
Jansen is going to be the everyday catcher for the Jays this season, unless John Schneider is seeing something that no one else on the planet is, but there’s good reason for that. Behind the plate, you know what you are getting with Jansen; one of the best defensive catchers in the game. The pitchers love working with him, too, and with his experience and understanding of game calling, Jansen serves a key role in keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.
“(Jansen is the) definition of just a grinder ballplayer,” said Blue Jays closer, Jordan Romano, on an episode of the Toronto Stars’ Deep Left Field Podcast. “Super humble, a genuinely nice guy. He definitely is the heartbeat of the team for sure and I don’t think there’s a person who would ever say a bad word about him.”
The difference between having Jansen catching and anyone else was clear in 2022, as the Jays owned a record of 40-19 when the Elmhurst, Illinois native called the shots, compared to 52-53 with everyone else. Despite not being at the level of Kirk, Jansen can still contribute offensively. In 2022, he drove in 44 runs, and hit 15 homeruns, having less than half the plate appearances compared to Kirk.
To nip this in the bud before the debate begins, there’s no reason to compare the two and decide who is better. Both contribute in their own ways, and will be critical pieces for the Blue Jays if they hope to make a World Series run. Finding a way to make the duo work is imperative, but how that works remains up for debate.
Kirk was the starting catcher 78 times in 2022, likely being utilized a touch more than anyone had hoped behind the dish, largely due to Jansen’s injury. This season, the Jays would probably like to see that number come down a little bit, allowing Kirk to focus on driving in the runs, rather than saving them, but in the event he is needed, a step forward would be swell.
With another year of experience under his belt, and perhaps a year of learning from Jansen, Kirk could be set to take a step forward defensively. Unless the Jays have plans to play Daulton Varsho at catcher sometimes (they shouldn’t), the question will become whether or not Kirk can keep up his offensive production right until the end of the season, while getting relatively consistent time at catcher.
Although there is room for growth for both parties, a catching duo of Jansen and Kirk is something that just about every other MLB franchise would be envious of. Both bring their own unique, but equally as important elements, and their success as a duo in 2023 could be one of the big differences in winning the division, or once again needing to go through the Wild Card.
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