On a clear day, Darnell McDonald can see forever. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Way back in 1995, the Yankees spent their 22nd-round draft pick on a kid outfielder from Yavapai College of Arizona named Donzell McDonald. Donzell had a few things going for him: he switch-hit, had speed, and showed decent patience. He had little in the way of power, his batting averages were mediocre, and it took him awhile to figure out how to steal bases at a good percentage, but he probably could have been a fifth outfielder for some teams—just not the Yankees, who held on to him through 2001.
McDonald was on the major league roster for about a month in 2001, during which time he got into five games and had four plate appearances. He was subsequently sent down for Robert Perez, who the Yankees were interested in for reasons that now seem obscure—he ended up hitting .254/.271/.344 in his career and probably shouldn’t have been expected to do even that much by the time the Yankees got hold of him at 32.
McDonald departed as a minor league free agent at the end of the season, had a moment or two with the Royals, and then spent another seven seasons in the minors, ultimately making his way to the Mexican League.
Now his younger brother Darnell is with the Yankees, having been claimed off of waivers from the Red Sox.
Darnell was a first-round pick of the Orioles in 1997, one of many blown first-rounders by the O’s over the last couple of decades. He is a better hitter than his brother, with less speed, less patience, but a little more power. In 12 seasons at Triple-A, McDonald hit .278/.337/.425. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to very much at the major league level, which is why McDonald has hit only .248/.313/.396 in the majors.
The Yankees have gone with the Golden Arches Outfielder because three of the four starters the Yankees will see this weekend in Boston will be left-handers (Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales) and McDonald is a right-handed hitter. This is fine insofar as it goes, but it isn’t a testimony to any particular skill that McDonald has as much as it is a reflection at just what a hard time the Yankees have had signing and developing outfielders in recent years—and yes, I know about Mason Williams (didn’t he do "Classical Gas?"), but he’s an island.
We could also just extend that to hitters in general—Jesus Montero, we hardly knew ye, and maybe neither did the Mariners. McDonald has hit lefties well, averaging.275/.345/.441 against them in the majors. It’s not bad, but not so far removed from the average right-handed hitter that you would specifically sign him up for that role; it’s just that the Yankees don’t have the resources in position players at the minor league level to patch right now.
For the past six weeks or so, a left-handed opponent has meant Jayson Nix in the lineup. Nix has gone a homerless 8-for-32 against southpaws, and his career rates against them now stand at .234/.304/.426. McDonald would seem to be an improvement, at least on paper, but you would like to think that somewhere in the last, oh, five drafts there would be a guy who would be ready to pitch in so the team could avoid the journeyman/trying to beat the Red Sox with players not good enough to BE Red Sox route.
Oh well. At least the three southpaw starters will mean a week of "Derek Jeter Can Hit Again!" stories. Those are always fun.