Jansen's catcher's gear gives way to mound presence
By Ken Gurnick
SAN ANTONIO GUERRA, Dominican Republic -- In 2004, Dodgers scouts Camilo Pascual and Rolando Chirino locked in on a slender catcher with a power arm playing in the Pan-Am 18-and-under games.
Pascual, a five-time All-Star in his pitching prime with the Senators and Twins, wasn't sure about the catcher's bat, but the arm and athleticism were Major League legit. Pascual signed him.
And so began the unlikely professional career of Kenley Jansen, whose then-sizable bonus of $80,000 to leave his native Curacao as a catcher was parlayed into an $80 million windfall reward this offseason for being the best reliever in the National League and the franchise saves leader with 189.
After signing, Jansen was sent to the organization's Campo Las Palmas academy for a minicamp, joining the roll call of dozens of Major Leaguers, among them Pedro and Ramon Martinez, Adrian Beltre, Raul Mondesi and even Mike Piazza.
The 83-year-old Pascual, who attended Tuesday's dedication of the camp's renovation, remembers first seeing Jansen in that tournament. Today, Jansen is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound mountain of a man whose darting cutter is reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. But when Jansen signed he was just 17 years old, 6-foot-2 and only 178 pounds wearing catcher's gear.
"He looked very impressive as a receiver, he had that excellent arm," Pascual said. "The bat, he showed some pop. He looked like he had a great chance to be a super catcher in the Major Leagues, defensively no question, and with a little more consistency with the bat he could play regularly."
Pascual recalls watching Jansen throw out potential basestealers from his knees, including in the World Baseball Classic. But scouting is more art than science, and Pascual said Jansen and the Dodgers deserve credit for their perseverance.
Jansen never hit consistently (.229/.310/.377 Minor Leagues), and after 3 ½ years in the low Minor Leagues, Jansen was convinced by former farm director DeJon Watson to take that power arm to the mound. The rest is history.
"Not many catchers can pitch because they have that short arm, but he got that long arm," Pascual said. "I heard he had pitched in the Little Leagues in Curacao, but when I saw him he was a catcher. I had nothing to do with the change, the credit goes to player development.
"Kenley worked at it and the organization made a great decision to change him. I'm proud of him, proud of his success and proud he stayed with the team. He's a terrific guy."
Pascual, a two-time 20-game winner, was a three-time strikeout champ and led the American League in shutouts and complete games three times. He pitched 10 games with the Dodgers late in his career and was hired by general manager Fred Claire to scout in Venezuela.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.