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One of the Phillies top hitting prospects is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League. Shortstop Jason Donald, through 18 games, is batting .459/.522/.803 with eight doubles, two triples, and three home runs. He’s leading the AFL in doubles, is fourth in base hits, third in batting average, and sixth in runs scored. Donald is following up a very successful 2008 season in Double-A Reading where he batted .307/.391/.497 with 19 doubles and 14 home runs. But, is this enough to become a blip on your fantasy radar?

Another impressive note regarding Donald’s Double-A season is the fact that he improved upon his batting average from 2007, his RBI total, and his home run total. To see a 23-year-old (he’s actually 24 now) kid do this says a lot about his willingness to learn and his ability to grow as a hitter.

Now, let’s look at some of the negative aspects keeping Donald from reaching any level of fantasy baseball production.

First off, he strikes out more than a guy with a .300-plus batting average should. At Double-A he struck out 86 times in 362 at-bats. That shakes out to a 76.2% contact rate, which not too many guys who hit .307 have. In the AFL he’s struck out 12 times in 61 at-bats. At least that brings his contact rate up to 80.3%, but it’s still not ideal for a guy who’s most likely gonna make the big club because of his batting average and not his power potential.

Another big issue keeping Donald out of Philadelphia is the position he plays. At shortstop, he’s not getting calle dup any time soon to displace Jimmy Rollins from his throne. And a switch over to the other middle infield spot is laughable due to Chase Utley. About the quickest way that I can see Donald making the Phillies 25-man roster is as a replacement to Pedro Feliz at third base. Folks have hinted at a possible switch for Donald in the past, but it hasn’t happened yet. And Feliz isn’t giving up his position to Donald just yet. You could ask for a higher batting average out of Feliz, but his glove and power potential are a bit better than Donald’s at this point. Donald did have 14 home runs and 19 doubles in Double-A in 2008. So, the power potential is there, but it hasn’t surfaced as it has in Feliz, yet.

If Donald keeps hitting like this for the duration of the AFL and he shows up at Spring Training still lighting it up, you may see talk of him making the club and joining the backup or utility infield committee of Iguchi, Dobbs, Cervenak, and Harman. But that’s not terribly likely. What’s more liekly is that the Phillies will want to get Donald as many at-bats as possible in the minors to aid in his development.

Down the road, Donald could become relevant in fantasy baseball. It, most likely, won’t be in the first half of 2009. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on him for the next little while. Those of you in fantasy leagues that use players from the minors should pay a little extra attention as he has deep keeper status.

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