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Cubs prospect Interview: Christian Donahue

The infielder signed with the Cubs in 2017 as an undrafted free agent.

Rebecca Snyder

I finally broke my streak, and interviewed a Cubs hitting prospect. Christian Donahue was very generous with his time on a recent Monday night, and we talked “the island,” player development, and Oregon State baseball, as well as his career.

TH: Thanks for taking some time to talk with my readers today.

CD: Not a problem.

TH: You’re from Hawaii. As regionalism would seem less there than on the mainland, how does someone end up choosing a squad on the island?

CD: Quite a bit of it ends up being individual player-based. Whichever guy you like, that ends up being your squad. There’s a bunch of band-wagoning, and some Yankees/Red Sox stuff, and the Angels get quite a bit of attention. However, a bunch of it is player-based. Also, quite a bit of canoe/paddling interest.

TH: You played at Oregon State, along with first-rounders Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach. Adley Rutschman, the primary catcher, might be the 1-1 guy this June. What sticks out about them?

CD: Rutschman has an incredible work ethic. As well as smoothly running the pitching staff, he’s a switch-hitter that hit over .400 in the PAC-12 with developing power. However, that he works harder than most guys is what sets him apart.

Madrigal is along the same lines. I played at school and in the summer with him. He’ll make the plays he should, and a few he has no right making. Leave him a chance to take an extra base, and he takes it.

TH: Madrigal seems a bit Nico Hoerner with a better bat and better speed.

CD: Yeah, pretty much. Success at the pro level is about accountability, leadership, and intangibles. Not just stats. Larnach is an offensive beast, as well. However, Rutschman and Madrigal are the real deal.

TH: After your junior season, you had a decision to make. Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier (2018 37th pick, to Baltimore) had taken the infield opportunities up the middle. How did your decision process go?

CD: My family and I talked abut it quite a bit. Pat Casey (Oregon State’s head baseball coach at the time) was a big help, as well. We decided I’d be better off signing with a professional organization, and playing it from there.

TH: Your college coach helped you decide to go pro? That’s a classy move.

CD: Totally. He’s a great guy. He thought I would be best served getting more at-bats in a pro scenario that fighting for trips in college.

TH: Were any other teams involved in “negotiating”?

CD: Actually, no. Coach Casey did most of the work on that end. He shopped for a team that would be interested, and would be a good fit. The Cubs made the most sense from all angles.

TH: You didn’t see, but my jaw just dropped. Your college coach realized you were going to have limited time, and he found a team that would be a good fit for you? That’s kind of incredible.

CD: Yeah. Sitting the bench as a junior on a squad that lost six games didn’t help my draft status. Another year of the same was going to waste a year of development.

TH: Mad ups on that. As a pro, as opposed to a student, how much more hitting can a player get? It seems like “getting better at hitting” is about getting in reps.

CD: It’s so much easier as a pro. In college, it boils down to time management, so much. You have to get in your class work and study. Practice and weight room take time, as well. As a pro, the time is what you make it.

In the off-season, it’s about pacing yourself. You can get in all the hitting you want, but the front office has a rather good read on how much we should be doing, and when. A bunch of us in Hawaii are at the same facility to work out. Baseball, MMA, all sorts. Today, we were working out with Kolten and Kean Wong.

TH: Among the things I talk about that gets me in trouble is mild support of bunting. On-line tells me bunting is bad baseball, and disrupts development. If a hitter is getting 400 swings a year, is bunting twenty times a detriment?

CD: Of course not. The minors are about development. Most of us aren’t going to hit third or fourth. We have to do what the development plan says to move up levels. If I get 400, I can learn from the 25 “move the runner up” times as much as another at-bat.

TH: What do you get to enjoy more in the off-season that you can’t do in the summer?

CD: It’s no surprise I like spending time on the beach. Also, on the island, we tend to really appreciate our family. It’s wonderful spending time with them. Quality time with family is something I miss during the season. My dad was my first coach, and helped me get to where I am from three years old until through high school.

TH: Nice. Which Cubs hitting coaches should we know about?

CD: Tom Beyers out in Mesa was really helpful. I’m hearing that Chris Valaika is really good at it, as well.

TH: What’s something on your music playlist these days?

CD: “Fiyah” by Lovd Ones is among them.

TH: Any books on the nightstand?

CD: Back to Oregon State, one that I return to on occasion is “Fearless” by Eric Blehm. It’s about a guy who became a Navy Seal, and had obstacles to overcome.

TH: Which leads me back to scouting and development. As much as 20/80 scores, the Cubs seem interested in how players have responded to challenges in their development. It seems like “Fearless” would fit right in with the mindset.

CD: Definitely.

TH: As usual, I’ve taken much more of your time than expected. Thanks for giving us a look at what it’s like to work up through a professional pipeline.

Donahue completed his first pro season in 2018, posting an OPS of .732 in South Bend. After a late call-up to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, he bumped that to .904 at the higher level. Look for him to start in Myrtle Beach with eyes on Double-A Tennessee.