A Conversation With Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Prospect Hagen Danner

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Hagen Danner has had a unique ride in our rankings. The 2017 second-round draft pick was No. 31 on our 2019 Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects list, and after falling off completely in 2020 and ’21, he’s now a helium-filled No.14 on our ’22 edition. A position change has fueled the ascent; previously a catcher, Danner was moved to the mound in the months preceding the 2020 shutdown.

Last season saw the 23-year-old right-hander emerge as a shutdown reliever. Pitching against professional hitters for the first time, Danner logged a 2.02 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 35.2 innings with High-A Vancouver. Moreover, those numbers came courtesy of a power arsenal that has prompted our own Eric Longenhagen to proclaim that the Huntington Beach High School product is “on the fast track.”

Danner discussed his conversion — which wasn’t exactly a conversion — and the heater/slutter/curveball combination that he takes with him to the mound, following a spring-training outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He proceeded to break camp with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.


David Laurila: You were a two-way player in high school. How much did you actually understand pitching at that time?

Hagen Danner: “A lot. It was my main position until senior year, at which time I decided to just swing the bat. That allowed me to get drafted as a hitter and let me try to live out my dream of being a hitter in the big leagues. When that wasn’t going right, it was an easy transition.”

Laurila: You were drafted as a catcher. Why that position?

Danner: “It was what I played in high school when I wasn’t pitching, although I also was a third baseman. I guess it was better [draft-wise] to be as a power-hitting catcher. It helped being able to play defense behind the plate, too.”

Laurila: Do you feel that you had potential as a hitter? There was a lot of swing-and-miss to your game, but you did have a [.409] OBP as a 19-year-old in rookie ball.

Danner: “I did have potential, but I never learned a plan at the plate. I mean, you can’t really hit without a plan. I kind of went up there just trying to hit home runs every time, and that’s something that’s not going to work at the upper levels. I decided that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with hitting, so I talked with my agent and we decided to call the Blue Jays. They were super cool with [me converting to a pitcher], and I was very grateful for that.”

Laurila: This was done over the phone.

Danner: “Yes. It happened in the offseason. Then came COVID, and the entire COVID year, so it was easy for me to take the whole year to learn all over again. I had to relearn how to throw my off-speed pitches. I had to relearn how to move my body like a pitcher. Stuff like that.”

Laurila: Circling back to the draft, were there teams that liked you more as a pitcher?

Danner: “It was about half-and-half. Things were falling through on draft day — it kind of became a whole circus of events — and I kind of went with the easiest decision. I wanted to play pro ball. The Blue Jays made it easy for me.”

Laurila: What was the level of competition you’d faced in high school?

Danner: “I was in Southern California, so it was good. Nick Pratto was one of my teammates. Royce Lewis. Hunter Greene. Garrett Mitchell. I played against guys like that.”

Laurila: You said you had a good understood of pitching. Did you have access to tools like Rapsodo or Edgertronic?

Danner: “I didn’t. I just saw the success with how my pitches were. I always had a strong arm as a kid, and learning how to move and how to throw pitches with that arm was… I mean, it made it easy to be able to try to learn new pitches. The fastball was always there; it was more so learning a curveball. Making the transition here, I needed to learn a slider. So, I learned a slider.”

Laurila: Your current repertoire is…

Danner: “Fastball, slider, and I’ll throw this slow curveball to try to get hitters off my fastball.”

Laurila: Now that you’re pitching pro ball, you have access to a lot of technology. What have you learned from it?

Danner: “I’d say it’s ways to use my fastball and use my other pitches. I’m known for a fastball that kind of has some ride to it, and being able to throw opposite pitches… one rides, one goes down, and I want to [tunnel] them. When I throw up in the zone, I’m going to get outs.”

Laurila: Do know what the spin efficiency is on your fastball?

Danner: “It’s 100%, usually. That comes naturally from catching. As a catcher, you’ve got to learn how to get behind a baseball and get that true spin on it to second base. Once I was able to do that, pitching was super easy for me.”

Laurila: What is your velocity, and how important is it to your game?

Danner: “I’m around 97–99 [mph]. It makes my life a little easier, because I can miss locations every once in a while. You see guys getting outs at 88–90, and they’re different pitchers — they’ve got to learn different ways to get outs, they’ve got to move the ball differently — whereas I can kind of just throw it in there. When I’m up in the zone, I get swing-and-miss.”

Laurila: And your best secondary is your slider?

Danner: “It is now – the little ‘slutter’ that I have. It’s like a slider-cutter. It’s hard. I learned it in instructs after the 2021 season, so just recently. They gave me a grip and I started throwing it. They said, ‘Throw it like a fastball, throw it like a fastball,’ and that’s kind of how it’s working for me.”

Laurila: What is the grip?

Danner: “It’s like a four-seam. I throw it the same way I throw my four-seam fastball, I just tilt it a little bit sideways, off-center. My hand is already like this, so when I throw it, it’s got to go that way.”

Laurila: And you call it a slutter.

Danner: “That’s what it is. It’s got [horizontal] movement, but it’s smaller. I can make it bigger if I want, but I love throwing it with a little bit of zip that way. It keeps hitters off my fastball.”

Laurila: What about your curveball?

Danner: “It’s a 12–6, and I throw it for strikes. It kind of is [a get-me-over pitch].”

Laurila: One last thing: What haven’t I asked you about pitching that maybe I should?

Danner: “Is it fun? Ask me that. I love it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s made my life so easy. I look back on hitting as having been fun as well, but at the same time, it was a lot more stressful. Being on the mound, just getting to perfect my small movements on the mound instead of having to do catching and hitting… it’s awesome. Pitching is awesome.”


Source: fangraphs.com

A Conversation With Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Prospect Hagen Danner