Josh Donaldson can identify with what Angels star Mike Trout is going through as he attempts to decide whether to play this season during a pandemic and with his wife, Jessica, expecting the couple’s first child in August. Donaldson and his fiancée, Briana, also are expecting.
“It’s very similar circumstances,” Donaldson said on a Zoom video conference on Saturday before the Twins began their second-day of summer camp workouts. “I understand the thoughts that are going through his head right now and I feel that. I think at the end of the day, each individual has the right to make their mind up of what they feel is the best (for them).”
In Donaldson’s mind there is no doubt that what’s best for him is to play the 60-game season. The third baseman signed a four-year $92 million contract with the Twins in the offseason — the largest deal ever given to an outside free agent by the club — and is expected to provide even more power on a team that established the single-season home run record by blasting 307 in 2019. Donaldson was coming off a season in which he hit 37 home runs with the Atlanta Braves.
“I feel like at this spot in my career, I really feel it’s advantageous for myself, my family and for this organization for me to be out there and play,” he said. “Obviously, everybody knows I signed a long-term deal with the Minnesota Twins this past offseason, and I want to be able to go out there and put the uniform on and help this organization as much as possible.”
Nelson Cruz, the Twins’ 40-year-old designated hitter, gets plenty of well-deserved credit for his professional and non-stop approach to keeping himself sharp and in shape at all times. There is no question that Cruz’s level of professionalism had a big impact on the Twins winning the AL Central title last season for the first time since 2010.
Donaldson will provide another veteran presence in the clubhouse. The 34-year-old brings an intensity level that might be even more beneficial when playing a shortened schedule that will mean something from the beginning.
“From Day 1, everything matters,” said Donaldson, who hit 41 home runs and drove in 123 runs to earn 2015 AL MVP honors. “Not to say that (in) a 162-game schedule it doesn’t matter because they all do. (The) 2012 (season) is a big reminder for me every year. We won the division in Oakland on the very last day of the season. Every game has always been important, but right now you’re seeing some of these projections of some of these teams that probably shouldn’t even be … that wouldn’t even be in the equation to have a chance to make the playoffs.
“But all it takes is a hot month and you set yourself up perfect. So just as the other end of it, you get off to a hot start, if you get off to a bad start, it’s going to be tough to overcome because you don’t have the amount of time. … I would fathom that it’s probably not going to be all of the best teams in the major leagues in the playoffs (this season). You’re going to have a couple of sleepers that get off to a hot start and it’s going to be hard to make up that ground.”
Donaldson stayed at the Twins’ spring training home in Fort Myers, Fla., to close on a house when MLB first shut down in mid-March because of the pandemic, but he spent much of the time at another home running, throwing and hitting three to four days a week.
“It’s a unique situation because for myself I try to find a positive in everything,” he said. “The biggest positive and takeaway that I had from (the shut down) is, this is going on my 13th year of professional baseball. If you think about the schedule and for myself, making the playoffs seven out of eight years, and then in the minor leagues I went every year as well. It’s kind of always been a shorter offseason. So you take a little bit of time off and then you ramp back up for a month or two and it’s hard to get a full development time in to really focus in on some skill sets.
“So, for me, I tried to take advantage of it, knowing that this was probably going to be a little bit longer than what we expected. I really tried to work on some skills as far as running, jumping, some explosiveness type of things, knowing that I could go a little bit harder because I could have some time to recover as well.”
Because of the regular work he got in and his ability to remain focused, Donaldson said he’s not concerned that a three-week camp won’t be enough for him to prepare for the sprint that will be the 2020 season. Of course, to have success in this shortened season, the Twins aren’t only going to have to come out of the gate playing good baseball. They also are going to need to keep players healthy in the midst of a pandemic.
“I think all of us have a shared sense of accountability for it,” Donaldson said. “I think at the same time we’re here to play baseball, we’re here to train and we’re here to do what we do. This is our profession. We have to be conscious of the new parameters of everything, but it’s not something that I’m in constant thought about, ‘Man, I hope I’m not touching somebody or something like that.’ I’ve been around people and I feel … I don’t know, I’m not that concerned right now with it. Although it is a pandemic, I’m not trying to minimize it. But this is our job, and I need to be able to do what I need to do.”