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After Kenley Jansen catches on to Dodgers' pitch, he becomes a real prospect

March 6, 2010 |  8:57 am
The catch is, he’s a pitcher. It’s just that all his young life, he’d always been a catcher. Naturally, it’s the position he felt most comfortable in.

So if at first Kenley Jansen was less than enthused over the Dodgers’ suggestion he switch positions, he ultimately relented.

And now after less than one season as a pitcher, the 6-6 Jansen is in the Dodgers’ big-league camp as a reliever with a bright future.

"I sat with them to talk about it and they tried to make me a pitcher," Jansen  said. "Once I make the transition, I won’t look back. Just keep looking forward.

"I will continue to learn and get better, and be the best I can be. I feel more comfortable every day."

Jansen signed with the Dodgers at age 17 out Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He was big, had a strong arm, looked like a catcher. Trouble was, he sort of hit like a pitcher. Did I mention strong arm?

In his 4½ seasons in their minor league system, he hit .229, with little power. Finally after starting last season as a catcher, he was converted to pitcher.

By the end of July, he was a reliever at Single-A Inland Empire. He threw 11 2/3 innings, striking out 19, walking 11 and allowing 14 hits.

But he reportedly threw 96-97 mph, and however raw, was immediately tabbed a serious prospect.

Command figures to be an issue for awhile. He has a challenging learning curve ahead. But others have made the conversion -- Carlos Marmol, Randy Wells, Jason Motte -- and the Dodgers appear confident Jansen can.

``The coaches say it looks like I’ve been doing it for awhile, but for me I still think I have to learn a lot,’’ he said. ``I try to put my best effort in and get better every day.’’

Not too surprisingly, Jansen’s best-known play as a catcher was via his arm. He played for the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and was part of the team that upset the heavily favored Dominican Republic, 3-2.

In the ninth inning, Willy Taveras was trying to steal third when Jansen threw him out.

Only 22, he still has plenty of time to master his new position. Thus far, he said, his arm and shoulder have not suffered any particular strain while he builds strength.

``The funny thing is, I figured when I became a pitcher there would be soreness and pain and stuff like that,’’ he said. ``You feel kind of tight and sore, but nothing you can’t handle.’’

Jansen speaks five languages -- English, Dutch, Spanish, French and Papiamento (the official language of Curacao). And now has played two positions, one with an encouraging future.

``I just keep my mind open and listen to what they say; learn what works for me, and what doesn’t just let it go,’’ he said. ``I will keep my mind open and listen to what everybody says.’’

-- Steve Dilbeck, reporting from Phoenix