This article appeared in the Denver Post on Nov. 18, 2000.
McDonalds are on fast track
By Ed M. Odeven
Special to The Denver Post
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When opportunity knocks, it’s best to seize the moment.
For Cherry Creek High School graduates Donzell and Darnell McDonald, that time is now.
For two months, the McDonald brothers have been reliving the days of yesteryear when they played baseball together day and night at neighborhood fields or in their backyard. In reality, the standout siblings are members of the Maryvale Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. It’s a team composed of talented minor league prospects of the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies.
Darnell McDonald, whom Baseball America dubbed the No. 1 high school baseball prospect in the nation in 1997, put it this way: “It’s like back in the day when we were coming up.”
They may not be coming of age anymore, but the McDonalds are coming up in a different light: steadfastly toiling in the minor leagues until they get promoted to the big show.
In the meantime, Darnell McDonald, a power-hitting Orioles prospect, said it’s great to have the chance to spend time playing on the same squad as his older brother, a speedy center fielder from the Yankees organization.
“It’s very special for both of us,” said Darnell McDonald, also a center fielder, who has mostly played right field during his autumn stint with the Saguaros. “This is the first time we’ve been able to play together in organized baseball. It’s good for us. We’re able to push each other and help each other; my strengths are his weaknesses and vice versa.”
Saguaros skipper Tony Peña agrees.
“It’s nice to see the way they get along so well, the way they care about each other.”
Darnell McDonald, who turns 22 Friday, struggled at the plate this season while playing for the Bowie Baysox of the Double-A Eastern League. He had six homers and 43 RBIs while batting at a .242 clip, striking out 87 times and walking 29 times.
That hasn’t halted his determination.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “This year I didn’t have as well of a year as I’d like to. I was battling through some tough things — my mother (Nina) passed away last year (in October 1999). I’m just looking forward to this upcoming year. I think that it’ll be a big year for me.”
Through Tuesday, Darnell McDonald was batting .205 with five homers (tied for the league lead) and 16 RBIs in a platoon role with the Saguaros.
“It’s hard to get some consistency. You are playing every other day and you’re facing teams’ best pitchers,” Darnell McDonald said. “So it’s hard to get into that groove that you can get in during the season.”
Peña predicts Darnell McDonald needs a few more years of seasoning before he’s ready to be an everyday major leaguer.
“He has some power,” the Maryvale manager said before a recent game against the Scottsdale Scorpions. “The thing is, sometimes you have to be patient. From what I’ve seen right now, I think he’s going to need a lot of time.”
Donzell McDonald, 25, has been nothing short of spectacular. He is third in the league in hitting (.345) and stolen bases (17), six ahead of St. Louis farmhand Esix Snead, who led organized baseball with 109 swipes in 2000. The older McDonald is also first in runs (27), second in hits (40), second in on-base percentage (.425), second in slugging percentage (.552) and first in triples (five).
Donzell McDonald, who split time playing for the Double-A Norwich Navigators and Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the 2000 season, said realizing that hitting is a calculated, precise science has transformed him from a free-swinging batsman into a productive hitter.
“My approach is the main thing that’s got me in a good position to hit,” he said. “I’m not off-balance. I’m seeing pitches and I’m not swinging at bad pitches.”
Observing Donzell McDonald on a daily basis, Peña said he sees that the less-heralded Cherry Creek product has the tools to be a solid professional.
“He knows the game very well,” Peña said. “He’s not that far away from the big leagues.”
Although the Yankees have a fixture in center field named Bernie Williams, Donzell McDonald still yearns to get promoted.
“I really don’t know what’s in store for me,” he said. “I really can’t make those kind of decisions. I’m just going to play and let the organization do their part. But, yeah, it would be a dream to play for the organization that drafted me.”
Indeed, that dream would be sweeter if Donzell and Darnell McDonald advance to the big leagues in the same season.