It was reasonable to avoid veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson in fantasy heading into 2019. And two months into his season with Atlanta, those who chose to do just that looked rather smart. The Donaldson who won the 2015 AL MVP award with Toronto and showed little drop in production in the two seasons immediately after struggled to stay healthy and productive for two teams in 2018. After joining the Braves for 2019, he hit a mere .262 with seven home runs through 217 plate appearances entering June.
Then something changed. Donaldson turned on the power and did not stop, finishing his age-33 season with 37 home runs, 94 runs batted in and the No. 14 slot among third basemen on the ESPN Player Rater. Those who stuck with Donaldson reaped the rewards -- and now the Minnesota Twins get to enjoy his production for the next four seasons after Tuesday's announcement of the free-agent signing. While I have doubts that Donaldson can remain this productive (and healthy) for the duration of the contract, as far as 2020 is concerned, there is little reason to worry.
Donaldson neither hits for a notably high average nor does he steal many bases, but the power numbers alone -- along with the excellent hitters surrounding him in Minnesota -- reflect positively for his fantasy value. Donaldson was among the leaders in hard-hit rate and one of just seven men to draw 100 walks last season. Both of those qualities should serve him well moving ahead. His age and recent injury history, 2019 notwithstanding, are factors to worry about, but this is a likely and deserving top-75 player for draft day 2020, even though he is not among our top-10 third basemen. The position is deep, arguably deeper than first base.
Speaking of first base, the Twins recently agreed to terms with Miguel Sano, their former (defensively challenged) third baseman, on a contract extension, with the intention of moving him across the diamond to first base. That's a smart move. Sano hits baseballs rather hard and draws walks. Combined with Donaldson and ageless DH Nelson Cruz, the middle of this lineup is lethal. The Twins led baseball with a record 307 home runs last season. They might set a another record in 2020. Cruz, Donaldson and Sano -- likely hitting in that order from 3-5 in the regular lineup -- will see plenty of run-producing opportunities hitting behind Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, who combined for 205 runs scored in 2019.
As for Donaldson's most recent club, the Braves, it certainly appears they will enter the 2020 season with a notable hole in the middle of the lineup. Some combination of switch-hitter Johan Camargo and young slugger Austin Riley will handle things at third base, unless there is a pending move. Camargo hit .272 with 19 home runs in 2018 and can manage the position defensively. Riley started hot after his big-league promotion in 2019, hitting nine home runs over his first 18 games, but then struggled to make contact and lost the starting role in left field.
Neither player warrants mixed-league attention at this point, but keep them in mind come April. I would not dock awesome first baseman Freddie Freeman any ranking spots just because Donaldson skipped town, but it is a bit worrisome that his lineup protection could be Nick Markakis, Travis d'Arnaud or Dansby Swanson. Perhaps Ronald Acuna Jr. moves down in the lineup, as there are more potential leadoff hitters on this club than cleanup options.