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Donaldson a hit in first days at Twins camp

Veteran slugger intrigued by team's analytics, holds court with prospects
@dohyoungpark
February 16, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's been well documented over the years that Josh Donaldson, the newest member of the Bomba Squad, is a huge hitting nut. The Twins' new $92 million man was understandably intrigued when he entered the hitting area for the first time and saw the batting cage

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's been well documented over the years that Josh Donaldson, the newest member of the Bomba Squad, is a huge hitting nut.

The Twins' new $92 million man was understandably intrigued when he entered the hitting area for the first time and saw the batting cage equipped with a force plate and camera, which allows hitters to visually and quantitatively analyze their swing mechanics and forces at the same time.

Donaldson's first impressions after working with the Twins' newest toy?

"I can generate a lot of force," he deadpanned.

Shocking, we know. Who could have expected that from the slugger who finished last season eighth among qualified Major League hitters in hard-hit rate and sixth in average exit velocity?

As Donaldson settled into his corner locker in the back of the Hammond Stadium clubhouse on Sunday morning, it was clear that he was engaged by not only the bells and whistles, but also by his new hitting environment as a whole -- the lineup, the coaches and the prospects willing to learn.

"That was very interesting, to be able to do it and see what it was talking about, and then to be able to get on it and take a couple of swings," Donaldson said. "Obviously, this organization had a great year offensively last year. There's a lot of guys that are offensively capable of doing some really nice things on the baseball field. For me, it's going to just be fun to be around these guys and be a part of this lineup."

Donaldson's sweet swing was already on full display as he hit off a tee and held an impromptu instructional session for top prospects Royce Lewis, Travis Blankenhorn and Ryan Jeffers on Saturday afternoon.

He said he hasn't yet talked to manager Rocco Baldelli and the coaching staff about his ramp-up plan this spring. Donaldson slowed his Spring Training progression last season after what he described as "rough" experiences in his two previous springs, including a tough 2018 camp with the Blue Jays that led into an injury-plagued season. Donaldson, 34, said he feels "very good" about his current condition as he enters his 10th year as a Major Leaguer.

Donaldson is now five years removed from his American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2015 with the Blue Jays, and he has seen a slight decline in most of his rate stats and counting stats in the years since -- even factoring out his mostly lost '18 campaign.

But Donaldson said that he spent the first six weeks of last season getting his legs back from the injuries of 2018. He had an .826 OPS through May, then posted a .937 OPS from June through September thanks to a huge uptick in his barrel rate, average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in the summer months.

He'll be extremely valuable to the Twins even if he's closer to the .259/.379/.521 hitter he was for the Braves last season than to the much younger .297/.371/.568 version of himself from that MVP year, but Donaldson has the sense that he's not tailing off just yet.

"I definitely feel like [MVP level production is] attainable again," Donaldson said. "Obviously, the bigger goals are to win a World Series, and I feel like if we’re able to accomplish that, my role in that is going to be pretty significant. But I definitely feel like I have those type of years left in the tank, knowing where my body is at, understanding where I feel like my swing is getting to last year."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.