17-Year-Old Catcher Speaks Four Languages

Back in the early days of exploration when the Dutch along with several other countries were poking about in the New World, they managed, among other things to pick up some islands like Manhattan and a few in the Caribbean. Along the way, they couldn't hold onto Manhattan but they still have some located just of the coast of what is now Venezuela, called the Netherlands West Indies.

These possessions were integrated into the home country in 1922 so all those who live there are actually Dutch citizens. The culture is mixed and the natives speak several languages. Oh, yeah, they play baseball there, too. You might have heard of Andruw Jones. Which brings us to Kenny Jansen.

Like Jones, Jansen lives on Curacao, one of three main islands in the group (Aruba and Bonaire are the others). And like Jones, Jansen is a ball player -- in his case, a rookie catcher with the Gulf Coast Dodgers. And he, like most others from his part of the world, is fluent in four languages, which makes him the resident linguist in the Dodger system. Kenny can communicate in English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento, the lingua franca of his homeland, which is a jargon that combines parts of Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, various African dialects and some Carib words.

Chances are he isn't using Papiamento with his teammates these days but since about 75 percent of the team he plays on are Latinos with the others from this country (except for Australian Mitch Ayres, another catcher), it's essential to have a receiver that can communicate in Spanish or English with his pitchers. That Kenny can do quite well.

In 1999, his older brother Archi was signed by Rene Francisco, who then worked for the Braves but who today is the international scouting director of the Dodgers. Rene first got to know Kenny when the kid was 12 years old and told him that if he showed promise in the game, he'd be back someday to sign him, too. Kenny did and Rene kept his word in a very real way, recommending him to Rolondo Chirono, who is the area scout for Los Angeles. Chirono then had him work out for Camillo Pascual in Venezuela and the two combined to nail down the deal for the Dodgers.

There was some thought given to sending him to the Dominican Summer League since he speaks Spanish even thought the culture is different from Curacao. However, when a visa slot opened up, Jansen was given it and came to the USA for extended spring. He showed enough to stay on.

He's showing even more for in the GCL where he's currently hitting .309 with one home run and seven doubles. He has a long swing which will undoubtedly be tightened, one that projects power. Just as important, he moves well behind the plate, can block balls in the dirt and has an above-average arm.

Because the team has only one fulltime first baseman, Kenny takes a turn there now and then. You see, he's 6-2, 178 and doesn't resemble a typical catcher physically although someone pointed out that the 6-5 Sandy Alomar didn't necessarily look the part, either, but managed to do rather well, anyway.

Ask Kenny what position he favors and he answers emphatically, "I'm a catcher." He then pauses and adds, "I don't care where I play just as long as I play."

He's only 17 so if he lived in this country would be entering his senior year in high school. That's something to remember when one watches the growing pains that often occur in the Gulf Coast League. He seems certain to add pounds and strength so the potential to become quite a player is there.

As a Dutch citizen, Kenny could well become a member of the team representing The Netherlands in the inaugural World Cup next spring. In any language, Kenny Jansen is a prospect to be watched.