The talent is still there, insists Billy Beane. That's why the A's general manager was so patient with a struggling Jemile Weeks last year.
That's why the second baseman, hitting just .220 over 113 games, wasn't demoted until August. And that's why Weeks, who turned 26 last week, will be considered very much a part of what manager Bob Melvin deemed the "open competition" for the second-base position this spring.
So, too, will Scott Sizemore, from whom a breakout season at the plate was expected before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of Spring Training workouts in 2012. The plan now is for Sizemore to see time at both second and third this spring, with the latter spot being Josh Donaldson's to lose, thus likely leaving Sizemore to battle it out with Weeks for an everyday job at second base.
Ultra utility player Adam Rosales and versatile prospect Grant Green will also be given looks at the position.
"I think it's going to be a nice competition over there," Melvin said. "Just because someone starts there Opening Day doesn't mean someone else might not be there the next day based on a matchup."
Weeks was primed for great things in his sophomore campaign, simply based on how easy he made the transition to the big leagues look during a remarkable rookie season, when he hit .303 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 36 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in just 97 games.
The switch-hitter would have appeared in even fewer games had then-incumbent Mark Ellis not suffered an early-season injury. But Ellis' trip to the disabled list paved the way for Weeks' callup, and even when Ellis was cleared for a return, the classy veteran insisted the hot-handed Weeks keep playing. Ellis, subsequently, was relegated to a utility role and, shortly after, traded to the Rockies -- a sure sign of Oakland's commitment to Weeks, the organization's first-round pick out of Miami (Fla.) in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Such trust in Weeks was cemented even further after the season ended, as he was considered the lone untouchable while the club essentially made every other player available. Less than a year later, he was back in Triple-A Sacramento.
Only later in September, following the River Cats' playoff run, did Weeks return to the A's, but he was left off the club's postseason roster.
"I'm definitely a confident player, but there were times at the plate where I wasn't committed to what I was doing," Weeks said at the end of the season. "It's believing that what you're going to do is going to work. When you face a lot of failure, you might question that."
"It's not uncommon to see a guy who had a great rookie season take a half-step back the next season," Melvin said. "His talent level has not gone away. I talked to him recently, and I know he has high expectations for himself. He's not going to let any distractions get in the way. We've seen what he can do."
It's a unique situation the A's face this spring. The club tries not to use camp to make evaluations that lead to roster decisions, because of the small sample size. Yet Melvin and Co. must do just that this year with the likes of Weeks and Sizemore.
"Jemile had a tough year on the field, but his attitude was great when he went down," Beane said. "We think very highly of his talent. He's a great kid, brings a lot of energy when he's out there. I think he'd be the first to tell you that he expected more and that he'll bounce back this year."