By John Manuel
May 6, 2005
Eight years ago, Darnell McDonald was considered a can’t-miss prospect.
Now, he’s a footnote in baseball’s steroid spring.
McDonald, a 1997 first-round pick who has played 17 games in the major leagues, was suspended 15 games for violating baseball’s minor league drug prevention and treatment program. Because he’s not on a 40-man roster, he was subject to the minor league testing policy (and thus a longer suspension as a first-time offender), even though he has big league experience.
McDonald, 26, was playing for Triple-A Buffalo in the Indians system after having signed in the offseason as a six-year free agent. He was just a part-time player with the Bisons and was 11-for-44 (.250) on the young season.
McDonald was a two-way star at Cherry Creek High in Englewood, Colo., and was a running back recruit who had committed to Texas. Considered the top athlete in the ’97 high school crop—one that included Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells and Twins infielder Michael Cuddyer—McDonald was considered a tough sign and fell to the 26th pick. The Orioles bought him out of that commitment with a $1.9 million signing bonus, still the fourth-best in organization history.
However, plate discipline was rarely a strength for McDonald, and the power the Orioles hoped for never materialized. McDonald, whose brother Donzell also reached the majors with the Yankees and Royals, hit just 41 home runs in 3,058 minor league at-bats, struck out about three times as much as he walked and only got a cup of coffee in the majors last year with the Orioles, when he went 5-for-32.
The Orioles’ ’97 draft, at the time considered the best class of talent, also included first-rounder Jayson Werth, lefthander Matt Riley (third round), righthander Rick Bauer (fifth) and infielder Jerry Hairston (11th).