USM's Donaldson ready to step in

USM's Donaldson ready to step in

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Cole Donaldson does not look like the typical baseball catcher, a squat-and-square barrier with limbs scuttling about in the tools of ignorance.

Until he gets behind the plate.

"He's a smaller guy, but I'm telling you, he jumps around back there," University of Southern Mississippi senior first baseman Dylan Burdeaux said. "He's going to be a big asset for us, throwing guys out."

The 6-foot, 173-pound Donaldson, a red-shirt sophomore transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is expected to be the Golden Eagles' opening-day catcher when they welcome Northeastern University to Taylor Park at 4 p.m. Friday.

The St. Charles, Mo., native will take over the duties handled by Chuckie Robinson, who caught 86 games over the past three seasons, including 57 of 59 games as junior in 2016.

The 6-3, 225-pound Robinson, who signed with the Houston Astros after being taken in June's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, hit .288 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs last spring.

Robinson entered USM baseball lore for his block and tag at home plate at the end of an 8-6-3-2, game-ending relay that preserved a 3-2 victory over Rice in the championship game of the 2016 Conference USA Baseball Tournament.

"We'll certainly miss Chuckie's leadership and I know our fans will miss Chuckie," USM coach Scott Berry said. "He was a fan favorite because he was just a blue-collar player who basically caught 90 percent of our games. He stayed strong. He was a big, strong, physical kid and a streaky hitter, and when he got on that streak, he was as hot as anybody."

But Robinson's biggest asset was his defense. He threw out 39 percent of would-be base stealers while committing just three errors and allowing five passed balls.

"He gave you sound defense, and that's what we're looking for behind the plate," Berry said.

And that's exactly what the Golden Eagles believe they have in Donaldson.

"The difference is that Chuck was a little slower with his release, but just let his arm work for him," Burdeaux said. "Cole, he's quick and he has that arm, so he's got the best of both worlds

"Once that opening weekend rolls around, after that, teams are going to get that scouting report that you're not going to be able to run on this guy."

Berry compared him to the rangy Benito Santiago, a former All-Star catcher with the San Diego Padres. Others say he resembles former USM great Chris Logan, one of the best defensive catchers in Golden Eagles history.

Donaldson said he realized what he would be walking into when considering whether to come south and join the Golden Eagles.

"Seeing what kind of catcher Chuckie was, and knowing that I have to fill those shoes, I think that I can contribute some of the same assets, like throwing out runners," Donaldson said. "He controlled the running game. "Coming here, realizing that they needed somebody to fill in, I just felt like I could fill that role and do well."

By all reports, Donaldson did well during fall ball and continued his top-shelf efforts this spring, in the field and at the plate.

"He's very athletic, got a very strong arm," Berry said. "And, he's hit with some power in the fall and in the spring. We didn't look for him to do that, but he has shown that. But with his speed, he'll add to the double, to the extra base that Chuckie's lack of speed wouldn't allow him to do."

Donaldson has paid the price to catch.

Twice, he has been sidelined by fractured vertebrae in his back, the second time during his freshman season at Hutchinson that ended after just three games.

He has had Tommy John surgery on his whip-like arm in the fall before his senior season at Frances Howell High School. He also missed time after breaking his wrist left while blocking a soccer shot.

But after recovering from the second back injury, Donaldson became a weight room regular, adding the muscle and strength to better take the rigors the position demands.

"Everything's all well," Donaldson said. "I have felt great over the last couple years, and things have been going really well for me. I've had to work a lot harder to stay healthy, and it's just been a matter of working out and stuff, getting on the right program, and realizing what I can and can't do. Working with strength coach here, that's been great, too."

Healthy, Donaldson was a second-team All-Jayhawk Conference selection in 2016, hitting .343 in 50 games. He finished with 44 runs scored and 48 RBIs, smacking 13 doubles, four triples and six home runs with 14 stolen bases.

He hit for the cycle against Independence Community College, had 10-game hitting streak and 15 multiple-hit games, including two, four-hit games.

Donaldson threw out 14 of 30 bases runners (43.8 percent), picked off another four base runners and committed just four errors.

Donaldson said he had heard of Southern Miss before, but really was introduced to the Golden Eagles last year.

"I had played baseball with (USM second baseman) Storme Cooper's older brother, so, I got talking with him, and watched a few games with his brother, watching Southern Miss play, following the championship a little bit," Donaldson said. "Things just started clicking, and I found myself here."

Donaldson said he feels like he has settled into his new environment.

"The pitching a little better here, but I've been working with Coach (Chad) Calliet and (Volunteer Coach) B.A. Vollmuth, and they are really good at what they do," he said. "They've slowed the game down for me, because the first couple of weeks, I got up here and I didn't know what was going to happen. I was kind of nervous about the whole thing.

"But I've definitely settled down a little bit, sticking with my approach and doing what I need to do to contribute.

Donaldson, one of 17 new Golden Eagles, said he and his teammates were looking forward to the challenge of the season ahead.

"You never know what you're going to get with a bunch of new guys, especially with the diversity that we have here with all the different ages and different schools," he said. "But I think we've done well. Most everybody's pretty easy going, but we all have that one goal. We all want to go to Omaha. We don't want to stop at just that Conference USA championship. We want to go as far as (we) can."

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