Kiwi Leo Carter was a huge influence on the Denton Road outfit during the previous campaign, racking up a gargantuan 978 runs in just 21 innings.
He was second only to Old Northamptonians hitter Rob White in the runs league and is a big miss as he has recentlty been back in his homeland, turning out for Canterbury.
McDonnell, who is a key man for Durham University, is the player being asked to step up in place of the 20-year-old.
He hit 45 in the opening-day defeat to Oundle but is now recovering from what his skipper hopes is not a serious injury.
“Charlie’s got what looks to be a side strain and hopefully that’s all it is,” said Neate.
“We’ll hopefully get him back soon and, in the meantime, we’ll try to lay a foundation for him to build on when he returns.
“Leo hasn’t been the easiest player to replace and neither has Will Smith (last season’s captain), but hopefully Charlie can take up the mantle.
“He scored a hundred for Durham University against Warwickshire in pre-season and we’re hoping for lots of runs and wickets from him.”
But it is not only McDonnell who Neate is calling on to impress in the absence of others.
He wants his senior players - Gary Herbert and Stephen Finch - along with the youngsters to push the club forward.
“The senior players need to pick up the responsibility and help players who might come up to the first team from the seconds,” said Neate.
“We want them to feel comfortable in this environment and we’ll look to old heads like Gary and Stephen.
“They have been playing for more years than they’d like me to mention and they are important to us.”
Horton were outclassed by Brixworth last weekend, suffering a 142-run defeat to add to their 92-run reverse against Oundle.
But Neate’s side will look to produce a tidier display against Stony Stratford this weekend to get their season up and running.
“We played a few loose shots last weekend,” said the captain, who saw his team bowled out for 88 in reply.
“We showed our youthful exuberance rather than grinding them down.
“We know Stony will be very similar to us this weekend and we always have a good game against them. We just need to start gaining as many points as possible and keep a solid structure to the side.”
And if they can do that, Neate hopes Horton can prove to be the best of the rest in the premier division this season.
“The league’s almost split into two and we want to finish top of the second mini-league,” he said.
“We’d like to be top of the second one by trying to push into the top six.”
Horton have impressed in the T20 competition in recent years, making finals day in the past two.
And Neate feels they can use that experience in the longer form of the game, while also making another bid for the silverware.
He said: “We’ve had huge enjoyment in the T20 with a young side.
“It really helps you learn and we’re all really switched on in that competition.
“We’ve made it to the County Ground during the past two years and hopefully we can do it again.”
Elsewhere in the premier division this weekend, Saints will aim to make it three wins from three when they host Rushden, while Brixworth are at champions Peterborough.
Old Northamptonians host Oundle, Finedon Dolben entertain Wollaston and Geddington are at home to Rushton.
Skipper Thomas believes Bugbrooke can top the rot this season
Ciaran Thomas believes this can be the season that the rot is stopped at Bugbrooke.
The Badgers have endured back-to-back relegations and are now desperate to avoid another.
And with a few new recruits at his disposal, skipper Thomas is confident of a much better campaign this time around.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Thomas ahead of Saturday’s opener at Long Buckby IIs.
“It’s been a difficult couple of years for the club with back-to-back relegations, but we’re a lot more positive of having a much better season this year.
“We’ve got some new players who should strengthen our first and second teams and it should be a lot better this year.
“We don’t really know what to expect and after the past two years we’ve had, I can’t say we’re going to go out and win the league.
“My initial target is stability and to stop what has maybe been a bit of a rot.
“If we get a few good wins under out belt we can look upwards.”
And Thomas knows who will be key if his side are to trouble the top teams in the division.
“Our star man is Bilal Bashir, our quick bowler,” he said.
“He got 50 wickets in division eight last year and he was awesome for us almost every week.
“He’s had some injury problems over the winter, but he’s fully fit and we’re confident he will do just as well, if not even better this year.”