Jason Donald Quietly Having Stellar Start in Columbus

The Columbus Clippers have a solid 14-9 record so far this season and Jason Donald is one of the key reasons why. Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Cliff Lee trade last year, Donald is a second baseman expected to compete long-term with Luis Valbuena and others. His early solid offensive production in 2010 is a good sign for the future outlook of that trade and Cleveland’s middle infield of the future.

In 22 games played, Donald is batting .321 with two home runs and 13 runs batted in. An impressive fact is that he has 12 walks against 15 strikeouts, a healthy ratio for any batter in baseball these days, let alone a minor leaguer with no MLB experience. He is second on the Clippers with a .424 on-base percentage, just slightly trailing the pace set by top prospect Carlos Santana. Additionally, in 18 games at second base and four games at short, Donald has yet to commit a single error.

Donald turned 25 years old last September and because of his previous struggles in Triple-A, did not start the season as the everyday starter in Cleveland. Injuries limited him to .236 batting average and .629 OPS in 51 games with Lehigh Valley before the July trade to Columbus. He impressed then-manager Torey Luvullo during his brief stint at the end of the season with the Clippers, but overall expectations were low.

This off-season, 24-year-old incumbent Luis Valbuena maintained his starting role as the everyday second baseman for the Tribe. Donald ended up in Columbus yet again, forming a double play combination with Brian Bixler and Brian Buscher. That might not be the way the year ends at all however, as Valbuena’s struggles could open the door for a major league debut for Donald.

Valbuena, who rushed through the minor leagues with Seattle and then Cleveland, hit .303 during his 83 career Triple-A games (exact same as Donald right now). Playing in the majors for the better part of a year now, he has just a career .242 batting average with a .699 OPS in 138 games. This season has been even worse, as in 17 games he is batting .182.

Here were my thoughts on Donald’s future from my length trade recap articles last July. I remembered seeing him during his All-Star season in 2008 with Reading but the age factor was definitely an issue:

Baseball America stated that in the long-term his future MLB role will probably be as a super-utility infielder with the potential to play third, short and second. Once Jamey Carroll leaves within the next year or so, that role should be Donald’s for the taking. He has shown some pop at times, but at age 25 his development has probably stunted for the most part. Certainly will have the potential to play in the bigs, but won’t be a stud like the other guys in this deal.

In the first Clip Show of the year, our very own DP added in his take on Donald’s future with some typical comments about the Lee trade in general:

It’s hard to see a path to the majors for 2B Jason Donald, but he’s also off to a solid start so far…. Not too shabby for a guy that most will only remember as being “one of the guys that came over for Cliff Lee and probably will never amount to anything.”

Finally, take a look at Tony Lastoria’s recent comments about Donald and his good chance of being promoted soon. Lastoria writes for Indians Prospect Insider and is one of the best sources out there for minor league information:

He is a player who at the time of the Cliff Lee trade looked bad because of his sub par performance due to injury, but he may finally be showing the true player he is capable of being and that he had more value than originally thought when the Indians acquired him.

With second base wide open in Cleveland, Donald is very much the favorite to become the everyday starter at that position by the end of the season.  With Luis Valbuena struggling in Cleveland and Donald shining in Columbus, it is only a matter of time before the Indians turn to Donald to see if he can help provide a spark to the team and struggling offense.

With all these comments in hand, expect a promotion within the next month for Jason Donald. He could be immediately given the reigns as the starting second baseman with Valbuena returning to Triple-A. Not sure exactly what the organization is looking to do but they better be careful with the development curve for both players. Either way, it is definitely good to see some increased competition from the minors in a year like this.

(Photo via Tony Lastoria/Indians Prospect Insider)