Versatile A's duo ready for repeat performance
After position switches, Doolittle, Donaldson helped lift Oakland to AL West title
Sean Doolittle and Josh Donaldson know a thing or two about versatility.
Neither of the two ended up where they started.
Doolittle, originally a first baseman, started working out as a pitcher while rehabbing from a series of injuries.
First baseman to pitcher? Quite the transformation, you might think. Not so for Doolittle.
"It was kind of a surprise because of how smooth it went," he said. "I just battled so many injuries as a first baseman. … I was in jeopardy of missing all of 2012 because I got really close to having to have wrist surgery. So I asked to switch, and it was something we were working on as an insurance policy because I had pitched in college.
"But never in a million years could I even have hoped for something like this. It's been kinda weird to me how smooth everything went. Last year was a whirlwind, climbing [the organizational] ladder. But I had a lot of fun doing it."
Doolittle's transition has certainly been smooth. In a season where his Oakland Athletics went 94-68 and won the American League West, Doolittle himself didn't fare too badly either. He went 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 44 appearances after being promoted from Triple-A Sacramento.
"Last year was so much fun to be a part of," Doolittle reminisced. "And I realize how special it was for all that stuff to happen in a rookie season. I started the year in high [Class] A, and ended up in the American League Division Series. It was unbelievable, and to do it on a team with a lot of other young guys, it was really fun, too."
One of those other young guys was Donaldson, who also underwent a position switch. The A's opted to convert him from a catcher to a third baseman after an injury to third baseman Scott Sizemore at the beginning of Spring Training last year.
"As a catcher, you're in the game every single pitch. At third base, obviously, you're not, but you have to be ready," Donaldson explained.
"You can practice as long as you want, but until you're at the game … the game is a little bit different, and the speed of the game is different. I just think getting in there every day and logging lots of innings at third base [was the key to my success]. I think last year I led the entire Cactus League in innings played, so I think that helped."
But Donaldson and Doolittle weren't the only ones on their team who stepped up to the plate (pun intended).
The A's turned out to be the upset-inducers of Major League Baseball last year, keeping things interesting until the end by sweeping the Rangers in the final series of the regular season to clinch the division.
You could call them a surprise team, a dark horse, an underdog. And you'd be right; the 2012 Oakland Athletics were all of the above.
But one thing's for sure: They won't have that advantage again going into the 2013 season. All of MLB, especially their division rivals in Texas and Los Angeles, will have a wary eye on the A's.
So, how sorely will the surprise factor be missed?
Doolittle's answer might take you aback.
"I don't think at all," he said, "because you look at how many young guys were on the team last year, how many rookies, we got such valuable experience last year. I don't think by the end of the year, by August, September, we were really sneaking up on many teams. Teams really started taking notice of what we were doing. We were able to just really stay focused on what we had to do.
"I think by the end of the year, myself or the other young guys [never] thought of ourselves as rookies anymore because we had been through so much. We kinda got put right into it, into a lot of pressure situations. And we had so much success that I think that kind of stuff is really going to help us this year."
"Obviously last year it came to a point in the season where we weren't the surprise," he said. "People knew we had a pretty good team, but we went down the stretch and won lots of games. Took it to Game 5 [of the ALDS] and came up a little bit short. I think this year there is going to be the same attitude as last year … we'll go out there and play hard, and hopefully we come out on the right side of it."
Regardless of the outcome, both Doolittle and Donaldson chalk up their team's success to clubhouse chemistry.
"It was my first year in the big leagues, so I don't have a lot to compare it to, but the team chemistry was off the charts," Doolittle said. "It was so much fun. Guys were pulling for each other. Guys were genuinely vested in each other. There's a lot of friendships on this team that I will have for a long time. And I think that's rolled over into this year. We have some new guys in some key spots and I think that kind of chemistry really carried over, and we really just kinda welcomed them in."
Donaldson added that "a lot of people believe in everybody in this locker room. And obviously everybody in our locker room pulls for one another. I think we just have a good group of guys here and we're talented.
"I think that's going to help win games."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.