FORT MYERS, Fla. — Josh Donaldson showed his face at Twins spring training Saturday, and within the hour, he was in the batting cages sharing hard-learned wisdom with young Twins prospects like Ryan Jeffers, Travis Blankenhorn and Royce Lewis. By the end, he had the rapt attention of a dozen or more players and Twins staffers.
That’s a heck of a way to spend your first moments of a $92 million contract.
It’s just one example of a commitment he’s making to the Twins, to impact the club beyond just his loud bat and stellar glove. As he went through the negotiation process and had phone calls with key Twins decision makers, he made it clear, according to multiple people, that he wanted to be a boost to the entire organization.
“That was one thing,” Donaldson said, “when I was going through the free agency process …. I wanted to be able to help some of these younger guys develop a certain understanding about more of who they are and what they want to become; to see those guys develop. Long after I’m gone, these guys are still going to be performing.”
A few of the younger players sure seemed to appreciate the gesture.
Ryan Jeffers, a well regarded catching prospect, said he’d heard Donaldson speaking with a few of the other young hitters and wanted a front-row seat.
“I was hitting and I was like, ‘I’m gonna buzz over there just to listen,'” Jeffers said. “It’s just fun listening to a guy that’s been around so long. I grew up watching Josh Donaldson hitting videos. He knows so much about himself, he knows how his swing works, he knows the right moves in his swing. It’s just really interesting listening to him talk and get into that.”
Brent Rooker works in the offseason with Hunter Bledsoe, and that connection led to some first-hand hitting advice from Donaldson the winter after the 2018 season. Rooker’s offensive numbers in Triple-A last year were great, but a wrist injury sidetracked is season a little bit. He said the he relished the chance to have more face-to-face with the newest Twins slugger.
“It’s pretty cool to see a guy like that with this much experience and success to come in and work with some young guys on your first day,” Rooker said. “Obviously he has a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate and it’s led to him having a ton of success. He’s at a level that all of us young guys want to get to at some point.”
On Day 2 it was more of the same. He spent Sunday hitting homers with a quartet that included Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Then, he took infield practice and helped Blankenhorn with the finer points of fielding third base. Afterward, he stuck around the field late to talk through the best ways to attack ground balls with Royce Lewis.
Donaldson spoke Saturday with several hitters during some work with the new force plates – an expensive piece of tech that spits out real-time data that can reveal what’s working and not working with the lower-half mechanics in a guy’s swing. He talked about controlled and powerful movements, kinetic chain activities, his view of swing components like the hands, and nuanced hitting topics — all with Twins coaches and support staff there to help teach.
“Obviously, all ears,” Blankenhorn said. “Just listen up and see what you can get. … Definitely taught me a lot, a different way of thinking about ways to hit than what I’ve thought in the past.”
Royce Lewis was there, too. He might grab some components from Donaldson’s approach, and he might not. They’ll see what works best for him over time.
“Honestly, I’m just hear to watch and listen and see what everyone does,” Lewis said of his second big-league spring training. “I know that he’s very intricate with all the stuff he has. He has a lot of information on hitting and it’s interesting to listen to – it’s [another matter] to implement it into my game. … Taking little bits and pieces and seeing what works for me.”