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Josh Donaldson Signs with Minnesota Twins: Fantasy Baseball Impact

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jan 16, 2020

Donaldson will play for his sixth MLB team in 2020 after agreeing to a four-year pact with the Twins. The 34-year-old will hold down the hot corner for his new club and return to the American League after spending a year in the National League with the Braves. A new team means new ballpark factors for his new home digs and a new lineup to slot into, both of which are analyzed below. Additionally, I’ll throw his 2019 under a microscope and, most importantly, tie everything together to prognosticate what’s on the horizon this year.

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Park Factors

Our park factors are currently being updated and will be back soon. In the meantime, the table below shows the right-handed batter park factors for runs and homers for Donaldson’s previous home (SunTrust Park) and current home (Target Field) as calculated by year at Baseball Prospectus.

Ballpark (Year) Runs Homers
SunTrust (2019) 101 99
Target Field (2019) 97 97
Target Field (2018) 96 91
Target Field (2017) 103 108

As you can see in the table above, Target Field’s park factors for runs and homers for right-handed hitters have been all over the board over the last three years. Last year’s park factors for each split the difference between the hitter-friendly numbers in 2017 and pitcher-friendly factors in 2018, and they both checked in a bit lower than those at SunTrust Park. In all, I’m treating the park factor move as negligible and not viewing it as much of a downgrade. Further, if it reverts to how it played in 2017, it would actually represent an upgrade.

Lineup Quality and Depth

Donaldson will enjoy a lineup upgrade with his new team. He goes from an above-average offense to a potentially elite one this year. In 2019, the Braves ranked tied for ninth in wRC+ (102), and ranked seventh in wOBA (.332), per FanGraphs. Comparatively, the Twins ranked third in wRC+ (116) and second in wOBA (.347). The Twins return most of their key pieces on offense with the exceptions of Jonathan Schoop (.324 wOBA and 100 wRC+), C.J. Cron (.325 wOBA and 101 wRC+), and Jason Castro (.328 wOBA and 103 wRC+). Miguel Sano will shift across the diamond with Donaldson essentially replacing Cron, and Sano (.378 wOBA and 137 wRC+) should provide even more value to the offense this year after playing in only 105 games and making just 439 plate appearances last year due to an injury. Luis Arraez (.360 wOBA and 125 wRC+) should be an upgrade over Schoop at second base, and the combo of Alex Avila (.323 wOBA and 97 wRC+) and more playing time for returning Mitch Garver (.404 wOBA and 155 wRC+) could also provide an uptick in offensive production from the departed Castro, too. In summary, this lineup has a decent shot at being better than last year’s already potent lineup.

As an added bonus, Donaldson’s return to the American League means the lineup he’s in will feature a designated hitter instead of the pitcher hitting for himself, and Nelson Cruz isn’t just any designated hitter, as he remains one of the best hitters in the game. They also have depth should the injury bug bite a regular, with Marwin Gonzalez serving as an adequate utility man and offensive-minded prospect Brent Rooker waiting in the wings as depth in the corner outfield, first base, and designated hitter. Donaldson primarily hit cleanup for the Braves last year with 489 plate appearances from that lineup slot, but he also totaled 144 plate appearances hitting second and frequently called the two-hole home in previous seasons with the Blue Jays.

Minnesota has a talented mix of left-handed and right-handed hitting options that they can stagger — which should be especially useful this year due to MLB’s rule change requiring pitchers to face at least three hitters or pitch through the end of a half-inning. Cruz primarily hit third for the Twins last year, but the team could opt to split their righty sluggers up by hitting Donaldson second and Cruz cleanup with left-handed hitter Eddie Rosario sandwiched between them. They could also opt to hit Cruz and Donaldson back-to-back and not worry about splitting the handedness of the top of their order up. Regardless, Donaldson’s a good bet to hit second, third, or fourth in a loaded lineup and pile up run production stats aplenty.

2019 Review

Donaldson was a highly sought after free agent as a result of his ability to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2018 season. In his age-33 season last year, he belted 37 homers, stole four bases, and slashed .259/.379/.521 with 96 runs, 94 RBIs, a 15.2 BB%, 23.5 K%, and 132 wRC+ in 659 plate appearances. He was healthy enough to play in 155 games in 2019, his most since playing in the same number of games in the 2016 season. Prior to playing in 52 games in 2018 and 113 games in 2017, Donaldson rattled of four-straight years of 155 or more games played.

Even in the twilight of his career, Donaldson puts a charge into the ball. Among qualified hitters last year, his 47.5 hard-hit% tied Paul Goldschmidt’s mark for the eighth highest. Additionally, out of 478 hitters with a minimum of 50 batted ball events, Donaldson’s 9.4% mark in Barrels/Plate Appearances ranked as the 17th-highest overall, and his average FB/LD exit velocity of 98.1 mph ranked as the sixth-highest mark, per Baseball Savant. Interestingly, new teammates Sano (94.4 mph LD/FB average exit velocity) and Cruz (99.2 mph) were among the players who ranked ahead of him in second and fourth, respectively.

2020 Outlook

There’s no reason to think Donaldson’s in store for a significant decline in production. On the contrary, he’s a decent bet to improve on last year’s numbers. Steamer projects him to total 644 plate appearances and hit .267/.379/.527 with 36 homers, 100 runs, 103 RBIs, and four stolen bases. He finished last year ranked 14th among third basemen, according to ESPN’s player rater. Javier Baez was among the players who ranked ahead of him at the hot corner, but he’ll lose third base eligibility almost everywhere after playing just one game there last year. Donaldson is presently being drafted as the 14th third basemen off the board according to our ADP data at approximately 102, and that’s in line with his production last year. His ADP should get a bump now that he has a new home as part of a supremely talented lineup, and I’d outright prefer him to Eduardo Escobar (99 ADP) and Matt Chapman (89 ADP) and take him at his cost instead of spending the 56th pick on Manny Machado or the 60th pick on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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