One year ago today, Cardinals' Brendan Donovan received his big league promotion and hasn't looked back since.
Almost every year, the St. Louis Cardinals call up a prospect that the larger baseball world, and even many fans, are unfamiliar with, and that player makes a huge difference on the ballclub.
So many names come to mind that fit this kind of mold: Tommy Edman, Matt Carpenter, Lars Nootbaar, Allen Craig, the list could really go on and on. On April 25th, 2022, the next name to join that list became utility man Brendan Donovan.
Funny enough, Donovan was called up to replace a struggling Lars Nootbaar, who after a brief stint in Triple-A Memphis, has become a major part of the Cardinals' core as well. In 16 games prior to his call-up, Donovan slashed .298/.385/.404 with 1 HR and 6 RBI for Memphis. There weren't many expectations for Donovan upon his debut, but the team clearly valued the versatility he would bring, and boy did he ever.
If you were to grade Donovan's rookie season, it would easily be an A+. In 126 games for St. Louis, he slashed .281/.394/.379 with 5 HR and 45 RBI, while playing at every position on the diamond except centerfield and catcher. Donovan quickly went from a fun bench piece to someone who found his name in the Cardinals' starting lineup every single day, filling in wherever he was needed. His incredible rookie campaign led to him finishing 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year voting and winning the first-ever National League Utilityman Gold Glove.
Coming into Spring Training this year, Donovan did a lot of work on his swing to add more power to his game. Donovan is already an elite on-base machine, but adding some more pop could transform him into an All-Star-level player. Throughout spring and early in the 2023 season, Donovan's pop really showed, and he still got on base at a good clip.
Donovan has been slumping a bit lately, with his slash line falling down to 254/.311/.388. I wouldn't worry too much about an 18-game sample size from a second-year player, as last year and this Spring, Donovan proved to be an extremely valuable player for the Cardinals. Donovan seems to be getting penalized often for his great eye at the plate, as he's already been robbed of multiple walks or called out on strikes on balls way out of the zone a lot this season.
Nobody can seem to pin down where Donovan should be playing or where he should be batting in the order each day, and honestly, that is the beauty of Donovan. I said coming into the season that the best-case scenario for the Cardinals would be that Donovan fills a utility role for the club. He would play almost every day, but he wouldn't be pigeonholed into one defensive position or spot in the lineup, but he could move around each day to fit the Cardinals' needs.
The first year of Brendan Donovan has been awesome, and I cannot wait to see how his career continues to unfold.