Joe Donovan and Matt Schmidt sign Minor League contracts

Sunday, June 21, 2020 - 6:18pm

Catcher Joe Donovan signed a Minor League contract with the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher Joe Donovan signed a Minor League contract with the Cleveland Indians. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Junior catcher Joe Donovan and redshirt-senior infielder Matthew Schmidt became the fifth and sixth players from Michigan baseball to join the professional ranks, signing with Cleveland Tuesday and Kansas City Wednesday, respectively, as undrafted free agents.

Donovan and Schmidt join the other four Wolverines — junior right-hander Jeff Criswell, junior shortstop Jack Blomgren, and junior outfielders Jesse Franklin and Jordan Nwogu — who were drafted June 11.

Donovan was drafted in the 33rd round by the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and would have almost certainly been the fifth Wolverine drafted in 2020, with early draft projections marking him as an eighth to twelfth round selection, but the COVID-19-induced shortening of the 2020 draft from 40 to five rounds resulted in Donovan’s road to professional baseball taking an unexpected turn.

Donovan’s .228 career batting average and 10 homeruns over his 92 game collegiate career do not jump off of the page, but his impressive arm strength embodies the defensive prowess that MLB teams typically look for in their catchers. Donovan threw out 46 percent of would-be-base-stealers in the abridged 2020 season, and the Indians will certainly be hoping Donovan can translate that rate of success to the next level.

And while his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping, he has proven to have a knack for delivering at the plate in big moments, especially over the course of Michigan’s 2019 postseason run. Those moments may not always show up on the stat sheet, but Donovan provided tangible value with the insurance run he created by hitting a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning against No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional, and with his homerun in the eighth inning of the Wolverines’ lone victory over No. 2 Vanderbilt in the Men’s College World Series final.

Overall, Donovan shows potential to grow into the sort of defensive cornerstone teams hope for their catchers to be and has proven an ability at the collegiate level to provide the clutch offensive production that those same teams see as a bonus.

Donovan earned considerable playing time over the course of the three years he spent in Ann Arbor, but Schmidt’s collegiate career followed a different path. 

Schmidt began his college career at the University of Texas then transferred to Cypress College for two years before making his final move to Michigan prior to the 2018 season. He started just eight games in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor and batted .158 over the course of those two years. The 2020 season represented Schmidt’s chance to show what he could do at the plate and in the field when given regular playing time, and he made enough of a mark in twelve games played to earn a contract from the Royals.

Schmidt earned a mere .212 batting average in 2020, but the towering ninth-inning home run he hit against then-No. 2 Vanderbilt in the season opener suggests he is capable of hitting against elite pitchers. 

Early season hitting numbers are quite volatile, so it is possible that Schmidt’s average would’ve gone up as he adjusted to his starting role. Regardless, the Royals clearly saw enough talent and improvement to give him a chance at the professional level.