Everything in the A’s plans changed within the first hour of the first day of Spring Training in Arizona this year. Scott Sizemore was fielding grounders at 3rd base, the position the A’s had thought he’d solidified with a good 2011 season. Then he felt a pop, and onlookers heard it. Sizemore had torn his ACL in his left knee and would miss all of the 2012 season.
This sent the A’s into something of a panic, they had no legitimate backup plan. By default the starting 3B job was given to Josh Donaldson, a former catcher whom the A’s acquired in the trade that sent Rich Harden to the Chicago Cubs in 2008. Donaldson was now 26, and his prospect status was slowly slipping away into career minor leaguer. But Sizemore’s injury gave him an unlikely opportunity, and it was up to Donaldson to take advantage.
He was given ample opportunity to produce, but it simply did not happen. Through 28 games he hit just .153/.160/.235 and was sent down to Sacramento to try to work out his troubles. He did have a bright spot with a 3-4, 5 RBI game in San Francisco against the Giants, but other than that he contributed almost nothing offensively.
In the meantime the A’s had signed Brandon Inge to attempt to shore up the position, and that signing was paying immediate dividends. Inge caught fire, “Ingesanity” had been born, and Josh Donaldson was nothing but an afterthought. Inge would continue to play an integral role in the A’s emergence as a contender as the season wore on, but his magic would eventually run out and a freak shoulder injury (including of course Inge’s onfield attempt to reset his dislocated shoulder) would end his season. The A’s were once again without a 3rd baseman.
Many fans (myself included) were hoping this would finally be the time we would get to see 1st round pick Grant Green in Oakland. He’d played just about everywhere on the diamond, and although his defense is questionable, his bat seemed much more solid than Donaldson’s. But Green would not get the call, and Donaldson would once again by default reclaim the position he’d owned at the beginning of the year. This time though, something about Donaldson was different. Something had clicked. He would go 3-6 in his first two games with a homer, and would go 4-4 in his4th game back. The empty at bats seemed to have disappeared. He managed to raise his AVG over the .200 mark after just his 5th game back, and would not stop there.
Over the final 47 games of the regular season Donaldson would hit .290/.356/.489 with 8 home runs while playing a very solid defensive 3rd as well. His incredible turnaround helped fuel the A’s to the AL West title, and his clutch double in the bottom of the 9th of Game 4 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers and Jose Valverde set up the dramatic walk off victory that forced Game 5.
It’s safe to say Donaldson has grown quite a bit this year as a baseball player and as a man. We all knew he could hit just from watching him in Spring Training and in Sacramento, the talent was there. But much like numerous ballplayers he just couldn’t translate that success on the smaller stage to success at the biggest stage. Once he realized that he belonged in Oakland, there was no stopping him.
Now the A’s have a potential option for the hot corner in 2013 and beyond. If Donaldson can project the numbers over those 47 games anywhere near that over a full 162 game season the A’s will be thrilled (He’d project around 28 HR and 90 RBI). At this point I would expect to see Josh Donaldson in the starting lineup Opening Day 2013. An added benefit of Donaldson’s emergence is that it no longer forces the A’s to play Scott Sizemore at his unnatural position at 3rd, perhaps he can slide back over to 2nd base where he’s most comfortable and battle with Jemile Weeks and perhaps the aforementioned Grant Green during Spring Training next year. The A’s have definite options, and they have the emergence of Josh Donaldson to thank.