For those that love to follow industry leagues, the Tout Wars drafts took place this past weekend in New York City. In addition to their usual rundown, this year introduced a brand new Mixed League and as I was looking over some of the rosters, Josh Donaldson’s name stuck out to me. He went for $4 to Rotowire’s Derek Van Riper who went with a “stars and scrubs” approach, but considering some of the other names that went for a buck, along with RotoGraphs’ reader Jeff’s question in the Catcher Tiers piece, it seems that Donaldson is on quite a few people’s fantasy radar these days. Now the question remains, is he worth a look?
While Donaldson is listed as a catcher in most leagues, it will be highly unlikely that he gets much, if any, work behind the dish this year. He’s actually part of the patchwork job being done on the A’s third base situation that was left in a state of shambles with the season-ending injury to Scott Sizemore. But as we all know, just because you don’t play a single game at that position doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t qualify there.
Donaldson had primarily been a catcher throughout his time in the minor leagues, but had actually played in a little more than 50 games at third as well. When the A’s saw they were hurting at the position, they sent Donaldson to the Dominican League where he could hone his skills at the hot corner and the move had reasonable success. When Sizemore went down, Donaldson actually became the front-runner to fill the position.
Had Donaldson excelled a little more this spring, both defensively and with the bat, the immediate answer to the question posed earlier would have been a resounding yes. Playing third base but with catcher eligibility would have been outstanding as the number of games played would have surpassed that of anyone else at the catcher position, along with some better-than-average skills. He showed solid plate discipline in the minors with a walk rate over 10.0% the last three years and posted solid OBP totals. His mid-level power might translate to 12-15 home runs over a full season and he actually flashed a little bit of speed last year, swiping 13 bases at Triple-A Sacramento.
However, this spring has not been all that positive for him. Over 57 plate appearances, Donaldson is hitting just .231 with no home runs and five RBI. Now obviously we’re looking at spring training and a very small sample size to boot, but with a 24.6% strikeout rate and a decreased walk rate (8.8%), things haven’t looked too good at the plate to start. Not to mention the three errors he’s committed in Cactus League games and the numerous other booted spring ground balls that weren’t tabulated.
What this has done is open the door for Eric Sogard, another young Oakland prospect who appears to have made quite the impression this spring with his .341 average, two home runs and seven RBI over 49 plate appearances. Sogard has yet to commit an error this spring and has turned 11 very nice double plays from both third and short. His glove seems to be solid, and his minor league totals indicate much better plate discipline, less power, but similar speed. He’s even getting the starting nod at third during some exhibition games versus Japanese clubs. He doesn’t project to be anything special, but he doesn’t have to be too special right now; just good enough to beat out Donaldson.
What all of this has done so far is just clutter up the decision for manager Bob Melvin and that’s where Donaldson could be losing any legitimate sleeper status. Melvin has yet to decide who will start which just screams platoon. Donaldon’s value is tied into his playing time and if he’s sharing starts with Sogard, then his value or any potential upside goes out the window. I could see drafting Donaldson in a 15-team, two-catcher league, but any league less shallow, he’s nothing more than bench fodder.