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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Phillies' Latest Hot Prospect

is Jason Donald, who played great at shortstop for AA Reading last year, played outstanding ball on the Olympic team and drew rave reviews in the Arizona Fall League.

Phillies' personnel also have been working Donald out at second and third, for two disparate reasons. While Donald will be a non-roster invitee to spring training, he'd be among the possibilities if Chase Utley isn't ready when the season begins. The article doesn't say, but my guess is that the team is working him out at third because Pedro Feliz will be a free agent after this season and while he's a good defensive player, he's streaky on offensive and has among the worst on-base percentages in baseball for a starting player. Translated: Donald might be an upgrade.

Before you can say "Ryne Sandberg" (who played SS in the minors, was blocked by Larry Bowa and then was traded to the Cubs because the Phils' brass didn't think he could play second base), it seems like the Phillies will be reluctant to peddle this top prospect. After all, top position player prospects don't come around all that often. And, before you can say "the next Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins", remember that not all can't miss prospects make it. When the Phillies were golden from 1976 through 1983, many fans got very happy when they saw the next generation of position players, named CF Jeff Stone and 2B Juan Samuel. Stone had a great half-season after being called up but then faded badly. Samuel looked like a Hall of Famer in his first three seasons before falling prey to his weakness of being unable to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone. He enjoyed a long career, most of it as a utility player.

The article also says that scouts describe Donald as an overachiever. The last overachiever I saw in person in the minors was a AA second baseman for the Trenton Thunder over 10 years ago, a short, blonde kid who had a Shane Victorino-like engine, hit about .340 with 50 steals and yet somehow didn't make his club's list of top 10 prospects in Baseball America. The player came in at #13, which was a mystery because I saw some of those listed ahead of him (most of whom didn't make the majors) and wasn't impressed. A few of those guys were recruited for football by big-time programs, and this guy, well, was short.

He turned out to be David Eckstein, who has won World Series rings with the Angels and Cardinals. Put simply, David Eckstein usually puts you in a position to win a baseball game.

Jason Donald is different from David Eckstein in that he can hit for much more power. The fact that he has a great engine and his teammates love him bodes well, as do the numbers he's put up so far. Phillies' fans, though, should exercise caution in their giddiness, because not everyone who fares well in the minors excels in the majors. (Just ask Dodgers' fans, who for years saw prospects put up huge numbers at AAA Albuquerque, only to have them fail in the majors, or Brewers' fans, who for years saw players put up huge numbers at AA El Paso, only to have them fizzle; thankfully, Donald hasn't grown up in similar launching pads).

Now that I have asked fans to show caution, Jason Donald's development (and Lou Marson's) is an exciting story for the Phillies. Let's see how Donald fares in spring training and where he lands once the season starts.


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