Friday, September 16, 2016

Getting to Know Greeneville Astros 1B Connor MacDonald

Greeneville Astros 1B Connor MacDonald isn't all that comfortable talking about himself, but Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay certainly didn't mind helping out. Bonifay has worked with MacDonald since he was 17 years old, shortly after MacDonald signed with the Astros as the first Australian player inked by the team in over 20 years.

Connor MacDonald - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Bonifay first encountered MacDonald when managing in extended Spring Training in 2013 and has worked with him on and off ever since. Bonifay shared his insight into MacDonald with me. "I love that guy. He's just a really awesome kid. He's improved so much defensively from where he started. He's outstanding in the clubhouse.

"He spent a year down in the Dominican, playing in the DSL and he was MVP there. And it really helped him communicate. It really helped him understand where a lot of our kids come from and they love him. They call him 'Pollo,' like MacChicken. He's really awesome. I can't say enough good things about him.

"He's come out of his shell this year and he's made a lot of strides. He hit for the cycle this year which was just awesome, in Princeton. I've never seen anything like it. There was a ball hit to centerfield. He was at second base and he just kept on coming. He slid in (to third). They called him safe and I was so happy for him. It was a big night for him. All the kids, they wanted to do something special, so they all signed the line-up card, all signed the baseball, and it was really neat.

"But MacDonald's just a phenomenal person. He works. He grinds. He's just awesome to have on the ball club."

I asked MacDonald about that time he and a few other fellow Aussies spent playing in the Dominican Summer League. "Lachlan Madden ... was already down there. I flew down to the Dominican with a lot of Latino players and just walking through the Dominican airport was an experience. I didn't know where to go. Lucky, my teammates helped me out. Just seeing how people live down there ... it's an eye-opener to see how lucky we are to live in the countries that we do."

In speaking about his 2016 season, MacDonald told me, "I feel that my power numbers have been better this year than last year. Obviously, hitting more home runs is good. More RBI's. That's my job as a first baseman. That's a production position and that's what I was trying (to do). I'm always working to improve ... obviously, trying to take better at-bats with runners in scoring position, become more consistent with that." MacDonald hit .267/.322/.441 with eight doubles, one triple and six home runs in 43 games in 2016. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he hit a whopping .304/.360/.696.

He's also working on cutting down on the strikeouts, a common theme for hitters with developing power. "That's something I'm confident I can improve on. This year I was a lot better. I think I had a lot more hard contacts than last year. In the zone, I'm confident. I don't miss too much in the zone, but I just need to minimize my chases. Once I improve that ... working in the offseason, just still try to make more quality at-bats ... that's going to be exciting. I'm looking forward to it," said MacDonald.

Asked to give a scouting report on himself, MacDonald said, "I think I play the game hard. That's something I take pride in. I definitely think I've got a bit of pop. Again, I just have to improve my plate discipline." Of his defense, he told me, "Being 6'5" and being bigger than a lot of people, I've just got to make sure I keep my feet moving. Sometimes, I get anchored up and get bad hops, but I take pride in my defense and I think I'm good. I've just got to keep my feet moving."

Which of his Greeneville teammates would he least like to face in the batter's box? "Any kids that throw 100. The least pitcher would be [Jorge] Guzman. He throws 103, 104. That wouldn't be too fun so probably him," said MacDonald.

Another Greeneville teammate who stood out for MacDonald was Miguel Sierra, a shortstop who had been promoted to Tri-City at the time of our interview. Of Sierra, MacDonald said, "I really like him as a baseballer. I feel like he's mature. He handles failure well. He hit 11 homers. He swings it well. He came up big a lot for us and he plays defense really well too."

After spending a lot of time in Kissimmee during his first pro seasons, Greeneville was a nice change of scenery for MacDonald, literally. "Greeneville's nice. I drove up with one of me teammates. That was a really nice drive. You're used to Florida. It's flat as a biscuit. There's nothing to see. (Then) you're driving through these really nice mountains." He's also enjoyed the opportunity to play under the lights in front of crowds. "This has been my most enjoyed year of baseball because of that because in the Dominican, no one comes to watch and same in the GCL."

If he didn't play baseball, MacDonald would probably be working with his uncle back home in Queensland. "He's a sheet metal fabricator, welding and making stuff out of steel. I help him out a bit in the offseason, but I'd probably get my apprenticeship there if I wasn't playing baseball. Me best mates back home, they're doing their apprenticeships there. They're starting their degrees and I'm playing a game that I love, travelling, seeing the States. You've got to pinch yourself sometimes. I've got it pretty good."

Asked if baseball is becoming more popular in Australia, MacDonald replied, "I think so. Since they brought the Australian Baseball League back, I definitely think it's gotten more popular. More people are coming to the games. The game seems to get more media attention back home, which is good. They televise the ABL All-Star game and the Championship series on ESPN. So I think so.

"It was funny. There was a brawl (a couple years back) that was all over social media. Sports Center posted it, ESPN and all that, and I was just reading through the comments and Australians were commenting, 'damn, I didn't even know we had baseball in Australia!' I think people heard about it and it's getting out there."

MacDonald has been playing in the ABL since he was 16 and plans to play for the Brisbane Bandits again this offseason. But he also hopes for the opportunity to play for Australia in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. "That would be an awesome achievement," said MacDonald.

My final question to MacDonald elicited an unusual response. Asked for something that most people don't know about him that might surprise them, MacDonald offered this, "I've got a fake tooth. I play a lot of party tricks. I lost my front tooth when I was 10 or 11 and I play a lot of tricks on people."

I will leave my readers with that note and with this photo of MacDonald's glorious coiffure.




Thank you for your time, Connor, and best of luck with the Bandits (and hopefully the WBC)!


 


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