Counting down the 20 most important Cardinals in 2023: #13 Brendan Donovan
Defensive flexibility has become more and more important in recent years as teams give players extra days of rest, platoon them depending on the starting pitcher's handedness, and tweak defensive positioning - though the last of those will be limited beginning this season. Players who can handle several positions and also contribute solid batting performance are rare and wonderful options for modern-day managers.
If you combine those attributes and sprinkle in a little Cardinals Devil Magic, you get someone like Brendan Donovan. Last year's inaugural winner of the National League utility player Gold Gove has made himself into a valuable asset all over the field and in the batter's box.
German-born Donovan was a seventh-round pick by St. Louis in the 2018 draft out of the University of South Alabama, not exactly a college baseball powerhouse. He dipped his toes in the professional ranks that summer with 18 forgettable plate appearances for Low-A State College.
The Cardinals weren't discouraged by that tiny sample, bumping Donovan to High-A to begin the 2019 campaign, and that's where he spent nearly the entire year, playing 101 of his 113 games at second base. With Peoria, Donovan had a solid .266 batting average with eight homers, 53 RBI, and 70 runs scored. Where he excelled was getting on base, with 63 walks contributing to his strong .377 OBP. Avoiding outs is a terrific skill, and Donovan showed he has that ability.
With the 2020 minor league season wiped out due to the COVID pandemic, Donovan had to wait until 2021 to get into meaningful games again. When he did, he moved up quickly. After 25 games of .295/.385/.404 ball mostly at second base back in High-A, Donovan was bumped to Double-A Springfield.
It was at this stop where Donovan first began being shifted around the field, appearing at third base 18 times, in left field 14 times, shortstop in nine games, first base seven games, his familiar second base only three times, and one appearance in right field. His hitting was its most impressive yet, as Donovan batted .391/.411/.449. While he had only four home runs, 10 doubles, and a triple, his defensive flexibility and stellar OBP hinted at his path to the big leagues.
Pushed to Triple-A, Donovan was primarily a corner infielder, where power typically is expected. However, he kept up his usual performance, hitting .288/.389/.496, though he did add six homers, showing a little more pop. After 16 games back in Memphis during which he played four positions and hit .298/.385/.404, Donovan got the call to the majors.
You'll never guess what Donovan did for the Cardinals. Yep, more of the same, as he posted a .281/.394/.379 line with five long balls, 45 RBI, 64 runs, and an excellent 60:70 BB:K ratio. He showed off that defensive versatility, fielding at second base (38 appearances), third base (31), right field (20), left field (19), first base (16), and shortstop (seven).
With a diverse defensive skill set and a terrific eye at the plate, what does 2023 hold for Donovan?