Donald garners 2008 Stenson Award
Phillies infield prospect honored for unselfishness, hard work, leadership
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- By the time November rolls around, there have been so many awards and laurels bestowed on the game's top performers and prospects that receiving another honor might seem like old hat to some of these players.
But Philadelphia Phillies infielder Jason Donald has not taken his latest award for granted. He knows how special this one is.
Donald was honored prior to Wednesday night's Arizona Fall League game as the 2008 recipient of the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.
Created in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect who was killed during the 2003 AFL campaign, the award has been given annually since '04 to the league's player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership.
"I couldn't believe it at first, that they really thought that much of me," Donald said before the ceremony. "I feel a sense of honor that words really can't describe. I'm just thrilled to have this opportunity to represent my family and the Phillies with this award."
The nominees from each of the six teams are selected by their individual field staffs.
Mesa manager Rocket Wheeler, a baseball veteran who manages the Advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Braves organization, and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs, the Solar Sox's hitting coach, raved about Donald without reservation.
"Jason exemplifies the award he is receiving," Wheeler said. "He's a hard worker and a leader on and off the field."
"Jason possesses all of the qualities this award is all about -- tremendous work ethic, a true leader and he plays the game of baseball the right way," Sandberg added. "He's been a pleasure to be around. He could be a guy who we see in the Major Leagues next year."
Donald, the Phillies' 2006 third-round pick out of the University of Arizona, was also one of the top performers on the field these six weeks. He contributed to the Solar Sox's league-leading .329 batting average by hitting .414 -- fourth in the circuit -- with five homers, 17 RBIs and seven steals. He has led the league with 18 extra-base hits; his 11 doubles and .480 on-base percentage rank second while his .759 slugging percentage is third.
After having spent close to every inning of his pro career at shortstop, Donald was dispatched to Mesa to see time at third base, since the Phillies are well set up the middle. He also saw some game action at second base and short.
Rather than sulking or pouting, he embraced the opportunity to add to his versatility and value to the Phillies or any big league club that might be looking for a player with a live bat and a lot of heart.
"I think it opens up some opportunities with me," Donald said. "I understand that right now my best shot to get to the big leagues with the Phillies is as a utility infielder, so I understand that and gladly accept it."
At Double-A Reading in 2008, Donald batted .307 with 14 homers and 54 RBIs, with a month in absentia between late July and late August when he represented the organization and his country at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Donald said he felt the competition he faced in Arizona was of a higher caliber than what he saw at the Olympics.
"These guys here are the best of the best in the Minors," he said. "What I faced in Beijing was different in terms of the way the Japanese and Koreans and Cubans play. There was very good competition there, but I would say this is better as a whole."
And while Donald still awaits his big league debut and watched his organization win the 2008 World Series as a spectator, the excitement of being part of the future is thrilling.
"I am certainly very proud to be part of this organization," he said. "It's going in the right direction now with a lot of history behind it and this is a great opportunity."
Here is a look at the other five deserving finalists:
Peoria Javelinas: Kevin Russo, 2B, New York Yankees: The do-everything guy for the Javelinas this season, Russo saw time at shortstop, second base, third base and left field and combined to hit .324 with two homers and 14 RBIs. At Double-A Trenton this year, he batted .307 in 71 games, spending two months at midseason on the DL. He was signed by the Yankees out of Baylor and batted .281 with 45 RBIs and 19 steals at Advanced A Tampa in his first full season in '07.
Peoria Saguaros: Mike Baxter, OF, San Diego Padres: A fourth-round pick in '05 out of Vanderbilt, Baxter started the AFL campaign as a member of the taxi squad before being activated to full-time status. Between Advanced A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio this season, he hit .264 with nine homers and 65 RBIs. He was hitting .416, third in the league, with a league-best .510 OBP.
Phoenix Desert Dogs: Eric Young Jr., OF, Colorado Rockies: Young, the son of former Rockies legend Eric Young, spent the AFL campaign as the club's center fielder. He learned the ropes at a position at which he'd seen only four games at the end of the regular season, having played second base exclusively as a rising star in the system. Though he missed a week down the stretch with a sore hamstring before returning to action Nov. 17, he was a top MVP candidate with a league-leading .427 average, 20 steals and 35 runs scored. His .505 OBP stands second in the league and his 41 hits are tied for third. He'd also hit two grand slams, including one inside-the-park job.
Scottsdale Scorpions: Chris Pettit, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Pettit lost the first three months of the '08 season to a broken foot suffered on Opening Night at Double-A Arkansas, so he came to Arizona to shake off the rust and regain his stroke. He did both, hitting .348 with three homers, 17 RBIs and seven steals. He was leading the league with 47 hits and 13 doubles.
Surprise Rafters: Lucas May, C, Los Angeles Dodgers: The 2003 eighth-round pick, one of two Dodgers catchers with the Rafters, was hitting .182 behind the plate for Surprise. He batted .230 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs at Double-A Jacksonville in 2008.
The '07 season marked the first time a player won the Stenson Award and league MVP honors when Mesa Solar Sox/Chicago Cubs outfielder Sam Fuld captured both honors. Previous Stenson winners include current fall league participant Kevin Frandsen of the Giants ('06), Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier ('05) and Kansas City outfielder Mark Teahen ('04).
Stenson died Nov. 3, 2003, in an apparent carjacking. Four men were arrested for the crime. Two were convicted and are serving life sentences, one without the possibility of parole. One is serving an eight-year sentence for lesser charges, while charges were dropped against the fourth, who was a protected federal witness.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.