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While Donald Turns Heads, Keep Time In Mind

While a lot of young hitting talk has centered on John Mayberry Jr., in three weeks Jason Donald has made quite a splash. The 24-year-old infield prospect had three hits yesterday, raising his Grapefruit League average to .379.

Add these numbers (plus his 1-for-3, HR line against Team USA) to his recent U.S. Olympic team and Arizona Fall League totals and Donald is hitting an oustanding .395 (57-for-144) with 7 HR and 26 RBI. Since being called up to Reading, Donald is hitting .332 (168-for-506) with 21 HR and 80 RBI. Sure it’s double-A and triple-A pitching he’s facing most of the time, but one can’t deny the steady – and often dominant – bat Donald is carrying.

As we all know, Donald’s roadblock is the talented infield at the major league level. And now that Pedro Feliz has returned from back surgery, it’s hard to think Donald would get regular time at the MLB level. As it stands, the best bet is to keep Donald at AAA Lehigh Valley – giving him another chance at 500 at bats – then letting him take the regular third base job in 2010, denying Feliz his club option.

If this situation seems familiar, it is. Back in 2003, the Phils had another 24-year-old prospect itching to be a regular in the majors. He too was blocked by an established infielder with a substantial contract. Thanks to injury, the prospect – Chase Utley – received some time and paid it off with his raw hitting talent. Yet he still couldn’t break through. After spending much of ’03 in AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Utley was part of the Phillies roster in 2004, but platooned with that established infielder, Placido Polanco.

The good thing for Donald is he should start playing regularly in the majors by age 25, not age 26 like Utley. That’s something to remember for those wondering if Donald will ever make the show. Donald himself knows it takes time, and no matter what, he wants to improve his game:

“I’d rather be in the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal for anybody who signs a contract. If they feel like I’m ready to do that and take on that role, I’ll gladly accept that. If they feel like I need to play more in Triple-A and get more at-bats, then I’ll do that, too.”

That sounds eerily like Utley, who in 2003 said he wanted to be in the bigs, but understood how things worked and knew triple-A could be beneficial for his training. What also sounds eerily like Utley is Donald’s current scouting report. Again in 2002 and ’03, Utley was considered one of the team’s top-five prospects. He was an infielder without a true position, but with amazing work ethic, and he could just plain hit.

Now look at Utley.

Don’t doubt the progression of Jason Donald for one moment.

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