WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#7: IF/OF Brendan Donovan
25 Years Old on Opening Day
Drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft
Memphis, Springfield, and Peoria
I've been trying to tell you about Brendan Donovan.
Not only is Brendan Donovan a Major League caliber hitter right now, he's also a fun blend of old school and new school baseball.
In my mind, Brendan Donovan is who Mike Shildt thinks that Tommy Edman is. My hope is that I will have made that argument without "dragging" either Shildt or Edman by the time that you are through reading this write-up (I realized this after I typed up the thing, and here I am going back to state this).
I’ll even go so far as to say that all Donovan needs to do is four things in order to be a major league contributor: A) trust himself and his process, B) continue to get stronger without focusing too much on power, C) continue to get as good at as many different positions as he can and D) NOT ALTER ONE DAMN THING ABOUT THE PLAYER THAT HE WAS DURING THE 2021 season.
The really delightful thing about all of this is that Donovan knows all of this, and I have no doubt about it. Even more delightful than that is that Donovan will not be stopped on his way to achieving these things. He’s driven and committed. He knows himself and his process well enough to not get caught up or trapped by a little bit of struggle here and there. He also isn't the type to be satisfied with success, always striving for more.
You don’t have to look further than the 2021 season to see that. As you’ll remember, I was very critical of the Cardinals for placing him at Peoria to start the season. I believed that he should have been in the everyday lineup for Springfield, and I didn’t understand why he was in Peoria. Well, it turns out that Donovan wasn’t really himself at spring camp. Because of this, he started at a level lower than he should have. Where this could have buried a prospect or ten, Donovan used it as a springboard for his season. It was motivation to get going.
And, boy, did Donovan get going.
I know that the analytical mind will see that Donovan had a BABIP of .350 on the season and assume that number will normalize, especially if they see how frequently he puts the ball on the ground. This is why I believe that Donovan should change nothing about his game other than to get stronger and continue to trust himself. When you watch his at-bats daily, you see a kid who is hitting within situations. His BABIP is high because he is going to poke the ball all over the place because he’s a motherfucking HITTER. He hits in hitter’s counts, and he hits in pitcher’s counts. Sometimes it’s soft contact through the hole that the infield gives him, and sometimes he’ll rope one over the fence. My guess is that his average exit velocity isn't going to be through the roof, either, and will have the analytically driven mind questioning his sustainability. Donovan can smoke a baseball, but his game is getting hits and getting on base. Like with Dylan Carlson before him, a lot of the measurables will be deceiving. Still, he's going to put up some big exit velos when he gets a chance to turn on something.
Let this speak to the incredibly high hitting IQ that he has and employs, as well as the bat control that he possesses. If anything, sometimes his ability to recognize balls and strikes, and pitches that he can do something with, works against him late in counts with two strikes. You’ve really got to paint that perfect strike - specifically low and outside and usually with heat - to sneak one by Donovan, unless the umpire is trash, of course. Again, this is more an observation than a criticism of Donovan. There is absolutely nothing about his approach at the plate that I’d change. He needs to keep hitting the ball hard. That's it.
I’d also like to point out that I believe that Donovan’s BABIP in 2021 has already been leveled out. I could be remembering incorrectly (I'm not), but I don’t believe that there was a player in the organization that was robbed of more hits than Donovan was by WebGems throughout the season. I’d wager that you could extend this to the major league club, as well. Speaking to the professional quality of his at-bats, some teams stopped shifting on Donovan because he would just beat the shift regardless of how they were set up. Again, I cannot begin to stress how little about this kid needs to change.
To watch Donovan slap and smash the ball to every part of the field is a joy to watch. That he does it against lefties and righties is also what makes him special. Just one of four qualified players on the farm to have matching .800+ OPS against both lefties and righties, Donovan won’t be easily beat by a left-handed side-armer, or a tall righty coming right over the top. He does have a little bit of extra work to do against lefties than righties but, again, I would not change one thing there because Donovan is so good at going with what he is given against those tough lefties.
All of what has been stated above is the concrete foundation for any professional hitter. Amazingly, it’s only a portion of what makes Donovan so valuable at the plate. Donovan and Nick Plummer must be the two most exhausting at-bats in the organization. They take a ton of pitches per at-bat, and they don’t usually chase outside of their zone (shout out to Ivan Herrera, as well). You can see that with Donovan’s 10.9% walk rate and 16.8% strikeout rate during the 2021 campaign. There are so many facets of the game in which Donovan can go to work. Extra hot cheese, mean breaking pitches, and elite changeups are all pitches that Donovan can handle.
None of these 770-ish words so far begin to touch on some of the other aspects of his game aside from hitting. Donovan is sneaky fast, and maybe one of the more underrated athletes in the organization. He was third on the farm in stolen bases with 19, and it wasn’t until he got to Memphis that this part of his game started to leak a little bit. Much like with Tommy Edman before him, it’s rare to see Donovan make a mistake around the bases. Unless he’s trying to do too much, he’s hardly ever going to make a mistake. Even then, he has the athleticism and baseball IQ needed to maybe "luck" his way out of a mistake or two.
Of course, this says nothing of Donovan's toughness. He hustles on every play and dives around when it's time to dive around. Donovan took a fastball to the head earlier in the season, and shrugged it off right away. For real, watch the gif below. This is the kind of toughness that you don't see much in baseball players these days, for better or worse. Donovan had a rough stretch of games after a little down time after this, but the tough times didn't last for long. As a student of the game and his swing, Donovan got back into damage-mode lickety-split. For real, he's a tough son a bitch, and he comes from an awesome and tough family.
Now, the reason that I have Donovan higher than Plummer (DAMMIT, CARDINALS) is because of the defensive versatility that Donovan possesses. I truly believe that Donovan could be at least a league average second baseman defensively if the Cardinals started him there at the onset of the 2022 season. Once he got promoted to Springfield, he spent more time as a 3B/1B/LF than anything else, but he was clearly qualified for a second base assignment.
I also believe that you could say this about his defense at third and left field. Moreover, I know - not believe, KNOW - that Donovan would be above average (if only slightly) at these positions if given an offseason to dedicate to a position. I also believe that Donovan could handle shortstop if given a fair shake at that position, or a true offseason to prep for it. Specifically at third base, Donovan was nothing short of spectacular at the hot corner on a regular basis. His throwing mechanic and size might distract you into thinking that he isn't a big time 3rd baseman, but the product of his mechanics and size is, indeed, that of a Major League caliber utility third baseman.
Much like with one of my other favorite prospects Evan Mendoza, the Cardinals have allowed Donovan to spend some time at first base. I might be crazy, but I already believe that he is well above average there and he’s hardly played the position.
Based on his 2021 usage in the field, it’s safe to assume that Donovan’s clearest and easiest path to a Major League debut – which he’ll be ready for pretty early in the 2022 season if there is an “early on” in the 2022 season – is as a utility role player. He won’t be flashy in the same way that Edman or Edmundo Sosa can be flashy, but he will be solid while making some spectacular plays along the way. Because of this, Donovan will continue to work at all of these positions that I’ve mentioned during the offseason. I can’t wait to see the gains that he’ll make.
Donovan is where old school and new school meet. He uses all of the information and technology available to him to become the best player that he can be. He uses the entire field, works walks, hates striking out, and goes full-throttle every game regardless of the position that he is playing or the spot in the lineup that he is slotted. A true “student of the game” with the highest levels of dedication and baseball IQ, Donovan and his 350/422/550 hitting line with two outs and RISP in 90 plate appearances during the 2021 will not be rattled by the moment.
A left-handed hitting infielder that can work a walk and use all parts of the field to do damage without going strikeout happy, Brendan Donovan is close to Major League ready. As a member of the Glendale Taxi Squad in the Arizona Fall League, Donovan is showing off in limited action in the fall’s most prestigious showcase. He’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule Five Draft, and the Cardinals would be dumb-dumb’s to not do it. And if they are dumb enough to leave him unprotected, the 29 other teams in the league would be even dumber than dumb-dumbs to not take a chance on Donovan.
All that Donovan needs to do is to keep being himself. He needs to keep striving to be the best version of himself. The gains that he's made since being drafted are large and sustainable, so long as he continues to believe in himself and trust his process.
I can’t wait to see Brendan Donovan in the Majors.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!