When Darnell McDonald was chosen 26th overall in the first round of the 1997 amateur draft, he saw visions of an everyday major league career filled with spectacular moments and victories. But so far the 33-year old has not been able to accomplish that, having just five seasons in the bigs and once again fighting for a roster spot this year with the Boston Red Sox.
If this spring is any indication, McDonald’s frustrations of riding the pine may be coming to an end. He’s hit the cover off the ball for the Red Sox this March and he’s doing it while trying to prove to new manager Bobby V, that he is deserving of the right field starting job.
Thus far, the Colorado native is hitting an astonishing .429 with four doubles and while he’s only had 14 at-bats, it is encouraging when you compare it to last spring training when he only hit .245.
Anytime a new manager takes over a team the first thought on many player’s mind is ‘great, now I have to prove myself all over again.’ But not McDonald. With Bobby V taking over at the helm, this is a chance for McDonald to show that he is capable of playing everyday, something that only happened with Terry Francona when an injury would sideline a regular outfielder.
The 2010 season was the most productive for McDonald, getting in 363 plate appearances while hitting a respectable .270. He also drove in 34 RBI and smashed 9 long balls (both career highs). The rest of his offensive line was again pretty good, .336, .429, .766.
Is there a correlation between a strong spring training and a strong season? Consider the only reason McDonald got into to so many games in ’10 was because of the injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew, and it’s unlikely.
But with right field up for grabs this year and a new manager who is up for trying pretty much anything, this could be the year that McDonald proves he’s ready to contribute on a daily basis.
Cody Ross was brought in as insurance for right field after Ryan Kalish was again sidelined until late May or early June. At that point all indications were that McDonald would once again be saddled to the bench and get in his annual 150 at bats as a utility outfielder. Then Carl Crawford was setback and his Opening Day looks doubtful, meaning McDonald could get a shot at starting in right on April 5th. With Ross expected to fill in for Crawford, the competition is now between McDonald and newly acquired Ryan Sweeney in the battle for right field. So far this spring the competition hasn’t even been close with Sweeney hitting a dismal .083. With his recent minor set back, the stage belongs solely to McDonald.
When Crawford does return, it will move Ross to right field and then the true debate will begin, providing McDonald continues to produce at the plate. With three legitimate right fielders in the mix, one could be moved later in the summer to shore up another area of the club, likely pitching. At one point it was McDonald who appeared to be the obvious trade bait. But with a stellar spring training that could carry over to the regular season, his stock may be too high to dish off, meaning Sweeney or Ross could be the odd man out.
Seize the moment Darnell, and so far he’s doing just that.