By JAY LeBLANC
June 23, 2008
With Jimmy Rollins coming off an MVP season, you’d think it might be tough for an up-and-coming shortstop to get noticed during Phillies spring training. Jason Donald, however, managed to make quite an impression, and did so in only seven plate appearances. He smacked four hits, didn’t strike out once and treated the big league coaching staff to a performance they won’t soon forget on March 23 against the Blue Jays, going 2-for-3 with a pair of three-run homers.
Donald isn’t likely to post a lot of multiple-home run contests, but his solid all-around game and baseball smarts give him a good shot at reaching the majors sooner rather than later. The 2006 third-round pick out of the University of Arizona is an above-average defender and provides surprising pop for a middle infielder, slugging 12 home runs to go along with 31 doubles, eight triples and a .304 batting average last season while splitting time between the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws and advanced Class A Clearwater Threshers.
Ranked by Baseball America as the Phillies’ No. 15 prospect entering this season, Donald is enjoying another successful campaign so far in 2008 as a member of the double-A Reading Phillies. Through 62 games, he’s hitting .304 with eight home runs and 36 RBI, and while he’s not known as a base stealer, he’s swiped eight bases in 10 attempts. The Phillies have quite possibly the strongest middle infield in the game right now with Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley, but Donald certainly looks ready to contribute to the big league club whenever he’s needed. I recently had a chance to speak with the 23-year-old:
Q: What was your first reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Phillies? Did you know they were looking to pick you?
A: No, I didn’t know they’d pick me. I was really excited. I knew the Philadelphia Phillies organization was pretty top-notch, so I was pretty excited.
Q: You faced solid competition while playing at the University of Arizona. How did that prepare you for your pro career?
A: Oh, big time. The Pac-10 is one of the best baseball conferences in the country, and I was fortunate enough to go there and play well enough to get drafted. It definitely did prepare me, along with playing in the Cape Cod League. I really think that helped my development.
Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you come into an at bat looking for a specific pitch, or do you just kind of react to what’s thrown?
A: You know, I have a certain game plan sometimes, pitcher to pitcher, but when I go to the plate I really try to be offensive and believe in my swing, believe in the approach that I’m going up to the plate with. I try to keep it as simple as I possibly can - see it and hit it.
Q: To what extent do you utilize videotape and scouting reports when preparing to face a certain pitcher?
A: I like to keep a book on certain pitchers I face - pretty much every pitcher I face. I just like to go back and see what he threw me, see how he worked his pitches. It just depends; If I feel like I need to look at video I will, but I really try to stay away from it because then you start to overanalyze things you looked at in the video. But sometimes it does help.
Q: Who’s the nastiest pitcher you’ve faced so far as a pro?
A: Oh, man. There’s been some good arms; I can’t put my finger on just one guy. There are some guys I’ve faced - I faced Cueto last year, Johnny Cueto - he’s pretty good. I faced Andrew Miller in the Cape Cod League, and he was pretty dirty too.
Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Consistency - I think, you know, in the big leagues, they’re so consistent. Just making the routine plays, staying consistent with your approach at the plate, knowing what your strengths are and utilizing those strengths, and work on my weaknesses at the same time. I think my all-around game, really, I have to work on everything because there’s a reason they have minor leagues and that’s why I’m here, and I understand that - to be more consistent in all aspects of the game.
Q: Do you work on playing any infield positions other than shortstop in case the big club needs you there?
A: No, I don’t. I haven’t been told to. If I was told to, I would, but at this point right now, it’s strictly shortstop.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Phillies?
A: You know, I think that’s the club’s decision. I would like to think, like any minor league guy, that I could step in and play in the big leagues; that’s your ultimate dream, your ultimate goal. I think the sooner, the better. I can’t say I’m ready; that’s their decision. The only thing I can control is going about my work every day, and that’s what I’m going to do.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Amanda Rice
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals.