The MLB draft; tears, stress, anxiety, excitement. Happiness.
Hagen Danner, a catcher and pitcher out of Huntington Beach, California, was selected 61st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2017 MLB amateur draft. Danner’s talent, projected 41st overall by MLB Pipeline, had him selected late in the second round —lower than both he and others projected.
“I was told at the beginning of the day, that morning, I was looking at picks 28-34,” Danner told us. “Obviously, 28 being the Blue Jays.”
It wasn’t until the first picks passed that Danner started worrying.
“I was all excited, getting all ready for those and they kinda passed by and then that's when the stress started coming.” Oh, did the stress come.
“I'm like, ‘what am I going to do now,’ and I realized that the Blue Jays had the 61st pick. I was talking to the scout, Joe Versa, and my adviser and stuff and when it came down to that 61st pick and they offered it to me, I was very excited to get my name called.”
“It’s definitely a stressful day, after not hearing my name called and not getting any phone calls at that point. But yeah, I was so happy still. All my friends and family were here — we had about 100 people at our house, just hanging out in the backyard. When my name was called, it went crazy. It just made me so happy seeing that everyone was here, backing me up.”
For Danner, it isn’t all about the money — playing baseball comes first. “I’ve got enough of everything. I want to be a professional baseball player so that’s why I think I want to pursue my dream.”
The difference between being selected 28th and being selected 61st is considerable — Nate Pearson, who was drafted 28th by Toronto, is expected to earn a signing bonus of $2,302,900. Danner is expected to earn $1,043,200, a difference of $1,259,700. It’s not exactly pocket change.
Past the specific sum allotted to the 61st pick, some scouts wonder about Danner’s signability — a term loosely used to denote how likely a team is to sign a player.
“There is a bit of risk, however, that drafting Danner brings,” Drew Douglas wrote at District on Deck. “He is currently committed to play at UCLA next year. While a professional contract and a multi-million dollar signing bonus are very intriguing, some players elect to attend college before going pro.”
Danner thinks otherwise. Despite his commitment to UCLA, he says it’s “very likely” that he signs with the Blue Jays.
“I've talked to everybody, my agent and everyone, and they’re all along with me [in signing with Toronto].”
Why did Danner sign his contract when he suspected he would be picked high in the draft?
“UCLA has been my dream school since I was about six years old. But also playing professional baseball [has been] my dream since six years old, so, I mean, having those two options there for me going into the draft was very [comforting].
“It was pleasing to be able to know that I'll be going somewhere great no matter what. I want to be in professional baseball so, I mean, I got picked, and I want to pursue my dream.”
That dream has taken an unexpected twist, perhaps for the better. Danner, assuming he signs, will be playing for the Blue Jays — and, without fear of over-generalizing — Canada’s team. By the sounds of it, Danner has already been experiencing the support.
“It's already been coming in from Twitter and everyone tweeting at me; seeing some guy already give me a nickname, the ice cream man — I guess from Haagen Dazs ice cream — which is pretty cool.” Danner chuckles; he seems to enjoy the nickname. “I like that one. That's a good one.
“It's crazy seeing that a whole country backs up a team like that and seeing all the fans at the games. I've been watching YouTube videos of fans at the games; everyone's just die-hard Blue Jay fans and that's what it's all about.”
Even though Danner is now a self-proclaimed Blue Jay fan, he grew up an Angels fan — Huntington Beach, his home town, is about 15 miles from Angels Stadium — and a fan of the Cleveland Indians.
“Growing up, [it] was always the Angels and I was a big fan of the Indians. My dad grew up in Ohio and he was a Cincinnati Reds fan, but his mom was a die-hard Indians fan. I was a big Grady Sizemore fan growing up. I still do like [Cleveland], but now, I guess I'm the biggest Blue Jays fan here.”
Sizemore was Danner’s favorite player for two key reasons — Danner was fast and played outfield while growing up, two identifiable characteristics that the pair share. Today, Danner has two different players he appreciates the most: Max Scherzer and Buster Posey.
“I liked Justin Verlander, but right now my favorite player is Buster Posey behind the plate. For pitching, I like Max Scherzer, but right now, my favorite player is Buster Posey.
“The catcher is the leader of the team and that's what I love about being a catcher —every play is in your hands, basically. I love the pressure of being a catcher, and that's the same as a pitcher, too. That's the reason why I love pitching, ‘cause it's your game; you're in the lead of the game and all the pressure is on you, so from a catcher’s standpoint, you gotta make every play right. If you make a mistake, it's all on you. Having that pressure just makes the game a lot more interesting.”
Danner talks about being both a catcher and a pitcher. For the majority of his development, he’s played both, but he was drafted as a catcher by the Blue Jays, so he’ll likely grow behind the plate. He’s never quite sure which position he likes more.
“They've always asked me which one I like more. Basically once a week, I'd get asked that question.”
Almost defensively, Danner continues. “I'd say I don't know. Every single time, I have no idea. Every coach would have me pitch, and when I'm pitching, they'd have me in the lineup at the same time. Hitting has been the strength for me, [but] I got back to catching these past two years and, I mean, I've loved it. It's been awesome.”
Danner says that, right now, he prefers being a catcher, because that’s the position he’ll be playing for the foreseeable future. He seems to have a good spirit about him when he talks about this transition — no preconceived notions of biases.
He’s not committed to being a catcher for the rest of his career, and he may return to the mound eventually, but for now, he’s at the mercy of the Blue Jays.
“For some reason, [if] catching isn’t going my way or anything, I feel like I can always change into a pitcher if they need me to.”
Being both a pitcher and a catcher is a possibility that Danner seems somewhat receptive to, but skeptical when the topic is brought up.
“I mean, if they allow it. I'm not sure there's many teams that allow you to play two positions, especially like catching and pitching. Those are two rough positions to do both at, which I have done for awhile and know from experience. Yeah, no, I mean, whatever team that picked me, I wanted them to choose which position I was going to play, and that's kinda how it worked out.”
Danner is right — there aren’t many teams who would allow a player to both pitch and catch at the same time. Just earlier this season, Christian Bethancourt of the San Diego Padres became one of the first pitcher-catchers at the major league level, but the experiment didn’t last long.
Bethancourt, a life-long catcher with a fastball reaching the mid-90s in two blowout losses of 2016, refined his makeshift delivery over the course of the 2016-2017 off-season. He appeared in four games for the Padres in 2017, pitching 3.2 innings. He gave up nine runs — six earned — while walking eight. Offensively, he had one hit and no walks in seven plate appearances. Safe to say, the experiment didn’t work; Bethancourt cleared waivers on April 25th and has been pitching in triple-A, walking 14 over 13.2 innings.
Danner has been playing two positions for most of his career — a career that included a Little League World Series championship, a USA 18U national team gold medal, and a high school championship. In all of these teams, Danner had Nick Pratto alongside him, a lifelong friend and teammate that attended Huntington Beach High School with Danner. Pratto, a first baseman, was selected 14th overall in the draft by the Kansas City Royals.
“Everyone — all our friends — were at his house waiting for him to get selected. Right after I saw him get selected — it almost brought me to tears — I was sitting there on my couch, and then about five minutes later, all those people started showing up at my house. Then I see Nick come through the door and he's there, cheering me on, and that just kinda shows you how good of a teammate he is, and how good of a friend he is to me.”
For now, Danner is living the dream. He’s a professional catcher, he’s playing for the Blue Jays and, for now, he’s at the top of the world. Best of all, he’s not only a player —he’s a fan.
“Go Blue Jays, I love all the fans. It’s awesome.”
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkColley.