Guilford, UConn baseball product Matt Donlan ‘couldn’t be happier’ in Red Sox organization

Photo of David Borges

Matt Donlan waited for three days during last month’s Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.

He got some calls from teams during the draft offering him free-agent deals, but continued to wait to hear his name called.

That never happened. When the draft officially came to a close on July 19, Donlan, the Guilford product who played his final collegiate season at UConn this past spring, was still without a team.

“It was a real roller-coaster of a couple of days,” he recalled. “I was hoping to get picked, but the ultimate goal was to have an opportunity to play professional baseball come this time.”

That goal was realized when the Boston Red Sox, the team Donlan grew up rooting for in Connecticut’s Mason-Dixon line of Red Sox-Yankee fandom, called to offer him a free-agent contract. The figure was a bit short of the $125,000 maximum teams are allowed to offer undrafted free agents, but for Donlan, it was a “no-brainer” to sign on the dotted line.

“I couldn’t be happier about it,” he said.

On Aug. 4, Donlan was assigned to Single-A Salem, and he made his professional debut on Aug. 7, going 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in the opening game of a doubleheader against Fayetteville.

“I hit the ball hard,” he said earlier this week. “I was happy with it.”

He had to have been even happier with his performance in the second game of his career on Thursday night, going 2-for-5 with a run scored in Salem’s 10-1 win at Kannapolis.

In all, it’s been a whirlwind past few weeks for Donlan. UConn’s workhorse catcher showed off a throwing arm that longtime coach Jim Penders called “the best I’ve coached behind the plate” by throwing out more than 50 percent (22 of 42) of would-be base-stealers. He wasn’t too shabby at the plate, either, tying for the team lead with 12 home runs and finishing third with 60 RBIs as the Huskies won a program-record 50 games, a second straight Big East title and advanced to their first Super Regional in 11 years, falling one win short of the College World Series.

“UConn was obviously just an absolute blast, so many relationships, friendships built with coaches,” said Donlan, who transferred to Storrs from Stonehill College midway through the prior season. “We made an historic run. So much development. I wouldn’t have been here if I hadn’t gone to UConn. No shot I’d be here today, so I’m real grateful for them. Really happy with that decision and the way it panned out, on the field, off the field.”

After signing with the Red Sox, Donlan, who listed Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek and David Ortiz as his favorite players while growing up, reported to the team’s spring training facilities in Fort Myers, Florida. He and members of the 2022 draft class weren’t allowed to play games for the Rookie League FCL Red Sox, but he got to watch rehabbing big-league veteran James Paxson throw a few bullpen sessions and, overall, “tried to get a good foundation of the training that you need for the pro ball schedule.”

After a little over a week, he was sent up to Salem, Virginia. He’s one of three catchers on the roster, but figures to get decent playing time either behind the plate or as designated hitter.

“It’s been really, really cool,” Donlan reported. “The guys are here are awesome, the coaches here are awesome. It’s been a great start to the pro ball experience.”

Playing pro ball for the organization he grew up loving. Not bad for a kid whose only real option out of Guilford High was Division II Stonehill.

“It’s definitely pretty awesome,” he added. “That was honestly the goal when I set out that I wanted to happen. Obviously, I’m not finished yet, but it’s definitely cool to reflect upon.”

david.borges@hearstmediact.com