Hours after he had been officially announced on Tuesday as the winner of the first-ever National League utility Gold Glove, Brendan Donovan wasn’t sure what the hardware for his defensive award would look like.
The award handed out by the St. Louis-based Rawlings and given to the best defensive players at each position typically features, as Rawlings describes it, a gold lamé-tanned leather version of the glove the winning player used that season.
But for a super utility player like Donovan who played six different positions, he’s not sure which one of his gloves might be the centerpiece.
“I assume that it'll be an infield glove, but who knows? Maybe we can get like five little ones,” Donovan jokingly said.
The creation of the utility Gold Glove combined with Donovan’s .982 fielding percentage in 854 1/3 total innings, and his plus-eight defensive runs which tied him for the eighth-most in Major League Baseball, according to FanGraphs, led him to become the first Cardinals rookie to win a Gold Glove.
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Donovan made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in late April and played in 126 games. He received playing time at every spot in the field aside from catcher and center field. The bulk of the 25-year-old’s playing time came at second base where he totaled 264 1/3 innings over 38 games and had a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Donovan was awarded the utility Gold Glove over finalists that included Arizona’s Daulton Varsho and teammate Tommy Edman, who was third in MLB in defensive wins above replacement, according to baseball-reference, and was a finalist for his second consecutive Gold Glove as a second baseman. On the American League side, New York’s DJ LeMahieu won the other utility Gold Glove.
“I think to win it in the first year is pretty special,” Donovan said. “I mean, great job. Credit to Rawlings for doing this, because I know there's a lot of guys out there that play a bunch of positions that may not qualify for a Gold Glove in certain positions, so credit to them.”
“But man, obviously, it's hard to play all these positions, and you have to take just as much pride in your defense as you do your offense,” said Donovan, who batted .281 with 21 doubles and a .394 on-base percentage.
The ability to play multiple positions often gave Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol enough assurance that when the first-year manager created his lineups, Donovan’s defensive position could be decided after the rookie’s spot in the batting order was.
“I think I just tried to be the guy that, obviously you want to be in the lineup, but be that guy if someone needed a day off or needed to DH today,” Donovan said. “Then hopefully they were comfortable enough to just plug me in that spot. And then just go out there and just play hard and know that the work has been put in and just play to win.”
The process for Donovan to become a reliable defender anywhere in the field was one that he said started while in college at South Alabama. It was there where Donovan felt he “struggled defensively." He said he didn’t want to give managers a reason for him not to be in the lineup so he worked to improve his defense and even dreamed of one day winning a Gold Glove.
And now that he has won the award?
“It doesn't feel real,” Donovan said.
Donovan credited his continuous pregame work at different positions, his work with Cardinals first base coach Stubby Clapp and the “many ground balls” Clapp hit to Donovan over the course of the 2022 season to help him become a strong defender at baseball's highest level.
Having teammates with Gold Gloves of their own including the likes of Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado, who won his 10th consecutive award this year, also provided Donovan with people he could ask questions to and take suggestions from.
Each day he knew where he would be playing in the field, Donovan focused during his pregame on taking reps at the position he was starting at that day. On days when he was not in the starting lineup, he’d get work in at positions he hadn’t played at recently as a way to work on more comfortability.
Now that he’s a Gold Glover, the work will stay the same.
“Obviously nothing changes,” Donovan said. “You just continue to work hard and do what you do.”
To the 25-year-old, there's always work to be done.
“The people around me will probably tell you I'm probably the worst kind of perfectionist,” he said. “I think there's always little areas that I can continue to grow and improve on. And that's kind of the mindset that I look at. I'm never satisfied and I want to just continue to grow.
"Going into this offseason, one of my big things that I want to improve on was defense. Like I said, I'm never satisfied. I want to continue to grow and develop.”