Hagen Danner didn’t know what to think as the reserve roster deadline approached on Nov. 19.
Back in 2017 when the Blue Jays drafted him as a catcher out Huntington Beach (Calif.) High, his status as a second-round pick suggested that he would be a strong candidate for 40-man roster inclusion to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
That proved to be true for the 23-year-old Danner—just not at his drafted position.
Danner played both ways in high school, so after hitting .191 in three pro seasons he converted to pitcher in 2020.
Danner made rapid progress in 2021 as a righthanded reliever for High-A Vancouver, striking out 42 and walking 12 in 35.2 innings while allowing a 2.02 ERA in 25 appearances.
At instructional league, Danner worked at the organization’s new pitching lab and sat 98-99 mph. He touched 100 for the first time.
He also developed a slider “that’s probably going to be my favorite pitch” after using a “slider thing that wasn’t very good, honestly” during the season.
More importantly, he felt a comfort and a confidence on the mound than he didn’t feel as a catcher or hitter.
“I was going through a lot of anxiety,” he says of his 2019 season at Low-A Lansing. “It threw me over the edge, and I just really didn’t want to have to deal with all that anymore—all the failure, all the things you’re working so dang hard for and it’s just not coming to you.”
That offseason he pitched the idea of a change to the Blue Jays, got their blessing and then used the time during the pandemic shutdown to prepare himself for the mound.
“Being a relief pitcher is just the best feeling ever,” Danner said. “I’m not hoping to not fail anymore. That’s what my mind was getting me to as a hitter.
“Now, I’m sitting in the bullpen waiting for an opportunity, dying to get in the game. That, to me, is so much different.”