True, McDonald has spent a couple of seasons as an outfielder and it's also just as true that he didn't impress as an overall .226 average will attest. But those years were only while he was recovering from tendinitis, for he came into the system as a pitcher and it was there they wanted him to continue if the arm healed. It did and he went back to the mound.
And on to success - at least, so far, with 2007 by far the best yet. He began the year at Inland Empire in the California League and it didn't start particularly well. It should be noted that the Cal League has some parks located in places that given the field dimensions, dry desert conditions and height above sea level, are about as friendly to pitchers as Shiite neighborhoods are to Sunnis in Bagdad.
But McDonald persevered and with the help of pitching coach Charley Hough lowered his ERA to a respectable 3.95 halfway through the season. He had a 6-7 won-loss mark and had fanned 104 batters in just 82 innings while walking only 21. It was then he was promoted to AA Jacksonville where in a much more compatible atmosphere for pitchers, he soared.
The 6-5, 195-pound righthander posted a 7-2 mark with the Suns with a 1.71 ERA. Here he held batters to a .218 mark. In all, his year was a combined 13-9, 3.07 with 168 strikeouts (and only 37 walks) in 134 innings. Quite a year and more than deserving of this award as Pitcher of the Year.
McDonald was an 11th-round draft choice in 2002, signing as a draft-and-follow out of Golden West J.C. the next year. He's still learning his craft so 2007 could only be a prelude to larger moments to come.
The list of winners:
2007—RHP James McDonald, IE-Jx 2006—RHP Mark Alexander, Jx-LV 2005—RHP Chad Billingsley, Jacksonville 2004—RHP Chad Billingsley, VB-Jx 2003—LHP Greg Miller, VB-JX 2002—LHP Jonathan Figueroa, GF-SGa 2001—RHP Ricardo Rodriguez, Vero Beach 2000—RHP Ricardo Rodriguez, Great Falls 1999—RHP Eric Gagné, San Antonio 1998—RHP Luke Prokopec, San Bernardino 1997—LHP Dennys Reyes, Albuquerque 1996—RHP Bill Neal, Vero Beach 1995—LHP Gary Rath, Albuquerque 1994—RHP Antonio Osuna, Albuquerque 1993—LHP Ben van Ryn, Albuquerque 1992—RHP Todd Williams, San Antonio 1991—RHP Pedro Martinez, San Antonio 1990—RHP Jamie McAndrew, San Antonio 1989—LHP James Wray, San Antonio 1988—LHP Mike Munoz, San Antonio 1987—RHP Ramon Martinez, Vero Beach