Donald’s Versatility Gives Tribe Value Off Bench

By Craig Gifford

If Jason Donald could play only one position, there likely would not be a spot for him on the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster. However, because he can and has played all three infield positions at the Major League level, the third-year utility man is looked at very favorable by the Tribe brass and as someone who can fill very important role off the bench.

Last season, Donald’s year was derailed by injuries. He was hurt in Spring Training and never really got to do much to help Cleveland until late in the season, when the Tribe was out of playoff contention. Still, in just 39 games at the big league level, Donald showed his range in the field and actually provided a better bat than most would have expected.

Donald, who is expected to get a possible look in the outfield at some point this year, spent time at second base, shortstop and third base last season. At the plate, he hit a strong .318 in 143 at bats. He batted .253 as a rookie in 2010 and is seemingly improving.

The 27-year-old could prove to be something of a saving grace when it comes to Cleveland’s big 2009 trade of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to the Phillies. To this point, the Indians have gotten little out of what should have been a huge haul for a player the caliber of Lee. Pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp have shown promise, but have been derailed by injuries. Knapp has yet to even get to the big leagues and chances are he never will with his injuries. Catcher Lou Marson will likely top out as a career back up and make a long career of that. It leaves Donald as potentially the best player received in the deal.

Donald will get plenty of chances this season to prove he belongs in the majors. Because he plays so many positions, Donald will probably be in the starting line up three-plus days a week. Despite not being a regular at any one spot, Donald will have the opportunity to prove that he should be a regular fixture on manager Manny Acta‘s lineup card.

The question is, what will Donald do?

Defensively, Donald’s glove will be there. He is an exceptional athlete and does not embarrass himself at any position he plays. Donald is at his best playing his natural second base spot. However, he will not cost Cleveland games anywhere he plays.

At bat, it was nice to see Donald make the most of his limited time last year. While his time in Cleveland was limited, he did bat .310 in 47 games for AAA-Columbus. That’s more than a .300 batting average in 86 games at the top two levels of baseball. That is a decent enough sample size to say he could continue hitting into this season. If Donald can maintain an average around .280 and be something of a threat on the bases (eight steals the last two years) he should find himself on the field often.

Donald may not have been the prized prospect Carrasco and Knapp were thought to be nearly three years ago. However, he can very useful player for a team hoping to play meaningful games in September and October. That is more than anyone else involved in that trade to Cleveland can say at this point.

Photo: Associated Press

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