He arrived in Dayton with an amazing list of accomplishments as a three-sport amateur star. As a Dragons pitcher, his slider made Midwest League hitters look silly, and his fastball was one of the hardest ever thrown by a left-hander at Fifth Third Field. On July 11, 2013 at Yankee Stadium, he became the 61st former Dragons player to play in the Major Leagues. He is left-handed pitcher Donnie Joseph, now with the Kansas City Royals.
To say that Donnie Joseph was a legendary athlete at Hays High School in Buda, Texas would be a classic understatement. He earned 10 varsity letters while competing in baseball, basketball, and football. He was selected to the National Honor Society and sang in the Chamber Choir. As a football player, he left school as the second leading receiver in the history of the program. In basketball, he scored 30 points in a game against a district rival. As a baseball player, Joseph accepted an offer to play at the University of Houston.
Joseph was utilized as a starting pitcher at Houston during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but as a junior, he was moved into the closer role in the bullpen where his blazing fastball and devastating slider allowed him to dominate college hitters. The Reds drafted Joseph in the third round in 2009 and after a short stint in Billings, he joined the Dragons that same summer.
In Dayton, Joseph immediately had the look of a big league prospect. He had a fastball that could reach 96 mph, but his slider was his strikeout pitch, and strikeouts became his calling card. His slider broke so sharply that right-handed batters found themselves swinging at pitches that first appeared to be in the strike zone, only to see the pitch narrowly miss hitting them in the feet! Left-handed hitters simply had no chance against Joseph's slider. They regularly chased pitches that could not be hit with the proverbial 10 foot pole.
Joseph returned to the Dragons to start the 2010 season and was even better. He pitched in 19 games and allowed a total of two earned runs, an ERA of 0.78. Of the 81 at-bats against Joseph with the Dragons that season, almost exactly half, 40, ended in strikeouts. Opposing hitters combined to bat just .160 against him. Left-handed hitters struck out in 16 of their 26 at-bats against Joseph, collecting just three hits against him. It was total domination. He was promoted at the end of May.
Joseph struggled to control his arsenal of pitches in 2011, but bounced back with a vengeance in 2012. He spent the first half of the season in Double-A, posting a 0.89 ERA in 26 games, allowing an opposing batting average of a microscopic .129, and striking out 46 batters in 30 innings. He moved to Triple-A Louisville and continued to pitch well there, catching the eye of scouts from opposing teams.
With the Reds in the midst of a title chase, an opportunity presented itself for Cincinnati to acquire hard-throwing veteran reliever Jonathan Broxton, a two-time big league all-star who was with Kansas City. Hours before the trade deadline on July 31, 2012, the Reds parted with Donnie Joseph and former Dragons pitcher J.C. Sulbaran in exchange for Broxton. Joseph finished the year with the Royals Triple-A club, Omaha.
In 2013, Joseph started the season with Omaha again. The strikeout totals continued to pile up. On the year, he struck out 84 batters in 55 innings and surrendered just 39 hits. On July 11, Joseph was called to the big leagues and made his debut out of the Royals bullpen. He appeared in four more games in 2013 with Kansas City and did not allow a run. He struck out seven batters in five and two-thirds innings. He will have more opportunities in 2014.
No profile of Donnie Joseph would be complete without a word about Joseph, the person. A deeply religious man, Joseph has become a friend to the homeless in his home state of Texas. His assistance goes far beyond financial donations. He regularly takes those in need to lunch, listening to their stories, and offering encouragement. Those who knew Joseph in Dayton or elsewhere in baseball could not be surprised by these efforts, for his kindness and positive outlook never seemed to stray. Extremely well-liked by his teammates for his genuine nature, he will be a tremendous role model wherever he plays. He was the 61st Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
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