Prep Baseball Report

In Memory Of Charlie Donovan: One of Illinois' All-Time Greats

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

Charlie DonovanCharlie Donovan – one of Illinois’ best pure baseball players in recent history – passed away on Nov. 5. I will not pretend to have known Donovan as intimately as many of his former teammates, classmates, coaches and family, though I did interact with him frequently over the years, and always came away impressed by his character. I wish to only write to what I know, and that is of his immense baseball gifts.

Charlie Donovan was a star – more like a comet – on the baseball field. In 11 years of scouting Illinois high school baseball, Donovan was easily one of my all-time favorite players to watch, because he combined rare high-level athleticism with true baseball skill. His athleticism was easy and graceful and always under control. He executed everything on the baseball field exceptionally well. Indeed, Donovan was a special kind of talent, one that made me question what exactly I was seeing. Could this baby-faced, undersized kid really have these polished, explosive tools? Everything looked so effortless, could he really be playing as hard as he did?

Yes and yes.

I first began to hear the name Charlie Donovan when he was in eighth grade. Paul Bunyon-like stuff.  He can throw it 90 off the mound, but he doesn’t pitch. He can dunk a tennis ball. He’s the fastest kid in the state. I filed it away, but I wasn’t about to go chasing some eighth-grader around.

The fall of his freshman year I saw Donovan at a workout. I double-checked the roster to make sure I was looking at the same kid. In my mind, I had painted a picture of this chiseled specimen, full of facial hair and accessories; you know, that kid that looks four years older than his peers and dresses like it too.

That’s Charlie Donovan?

He couldn’t have weighed more than 145 pounds, probably 5-foot-9 in cleats. He looked like he was 12. He got in the box. The left-handed swing was clean and rhythmic, direct bat path, loose, easy hands. Makes sense, his dad, Jim, was a hitting instructor, I had heard. At shortstop, he moved fluidly, throws had more carry than the frame would indicate. Intriguing, but I allowed the cover to taint the book. Small kid from a small school … I don’t know.

By September of his sophomore year Donovan was the first prospect in the 2015 class to make a verbal commitment, picking Michigan. By then, there was little doubt he was one of the top prospects in the state. The more you saw him, the louder his tools became. He was a premium athlete at a premium position, swung it from the left side and, above all, he knew how to play the game. Aside from his athletic gifts, his baseball I.Q. was extraordinarily advanced.

Fast forward to the winter of his junior year. I thought highly enough of Donovan that he was one of the only juniors at the Super 60 Pro Showcase, an event that is almost exclusively for draft-eligible seniors.  Some of the other PBR state scouting directors unfamiliar with Donovan busted my chops. “This is the kid you have pushed so highly in the overall rankings?”

Just wait, I said.

And then Charlie Donovan did what Charlie Donovan always did. With 80-plus pro scouts in attendance, Donovan put forth one of the event’s most impressive performances. First, he ran the third-fastest 60 time, a 6.62. Defensively, he recorded the highest infield velocity at 93 mph while showcasing his athleticism and hands. Offensively, Donovan showcased his trademark polished left-handed swing, lacing line drives to all fields.

His Super 60 performance elevated Donovan to a new level. He carried it over to the spring, as he and his younger brother, Joe, led Westmont to a third-place finish in Class 2A, the school’s first state trophy. As a junior, Donovan batted .500 with eight doubles, four triples and six home runs. He drove in 47 runs, scored 50 times and swiped an amazing 48 bases in 50 attempts. For his efforts, Donovan earned PBR first-team All-State honors, the first of two such distinctions.

That summer, I watched Donovan at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars in North Carolina. Perhaps I was bias, but I felt Donovan was one of the top middle infielders at the prestigious event, and could’ve earned a spot on the USA National Team. But he didn’t quite fill out the uniform as well as some others.

Nevertheless, back home in the Midwest, Donovan was a high-priority prospect for all area pro scouts. He was under the microscope. Pregame workouts, in-house visits, playing under scrutiny of area scouts and area scouts’ bosses. And once again he delivered. Donovan finished his senior season with a .483 batting average, 17 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 33 RBI, 64 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases. Defensively, Donovan showed that he had the arm and athleticism to play shortstop at the next level, a rarity in the Midwest. He helped lead the Sentinels to a program-record 30 wins and was named first-team All-State and Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.

He was drafted by the Brewers in the 30th round, but could’ve been much higher had he agreed to sign in the early rounds. Ultimately, Donovan decided to attend Michigan.

At the end of the spring season, when our scouting staff was debating the final Class of 2015 rankings, some guys were pushing for Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-7 left-hander from Alton HS who was drafted in the third round by the Cubs, to be the new No. 1-ranked player.

I wouldn’t budge off Donovan. Over the course of four years, I had seen him rise to nearly every occasion. I had seen the athleticism in action. I had seen his natural feel for the game, his quiet competiveness. I had seen him, when his high school game was preemptively canceled because of a pending storm (and I never got the memo), practice with his teammates, stand at shortstop and field every ball off the bat like it was the seventh inning while his teammates took half-hearted hacks during BP.

I had seen Charlie Donovan long enough. He was a winner, on and off the field.

2015 Super 60 Showcase Video


2014 Super 60 Video