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Don't call Donaldson an underdog

Former first-round Draft pick consistently produced in Cubs, A's organizations

Josh Donaldson has become one of the game's elite players. Surprised? Don't be.

Somewhere along the line, Donaldson has emerged as the hero of the underdog, portrayed as an overlooked player who made himself good. Wrong.

Oh, Donaldson has put in plenty of time and effort to make his impact felt in the big leagues. There is no selling the work ethic short when it comes to Donaldson, who the A's dealt to the Blue Jays on Friday in exchange for three prospects and a potential replacement at third base in Brett Lawrie.

As Donaldson attained All-Star status, it has been portrayed that he was a sleeper the Athletics picked up as part of a four-player package from the Cubs in exchange for pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin in July 2008.

The truth is, Chicago selected Donaldson out of Auburn in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft as a compensation pick for the loss of free agent Juan Pierre to the Dodgers the previous offseason. He was the 48th player taken in that Draft.

Yes, the Cubs did deal Donaldson a year later, but he wasn't an unknown by any stretch. In his first Minor League season, 2007, he was ranked the top position player in the short-season Northwest League after hitting .346 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in 49 games.

Donaldson was ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in Chicago's system in 2008, one spot ahead of right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija. He could hit, but he did struggle some behind the plate. The Cubs were looking at moving Donaldson back to third base, his position before he was converted to catcher after his freshman year at Auburn.

Video: Donaldson on joining potent Blue Jays lineup

Chicago, however, was in a battle for the National League Central in 2008. The club opened July in first place in the division, 2 1/2 games in front of Milwaukee. On July 7, however, the Brewers strengthened their rotation, sending four prospects to the Indians for CC Sabathia.

The next day, the Cubs answered. They packaged Donaldson and three others to the A's, and Harden did his part in return.

Harden was 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts, as the Cubs won nine of those games and the young righty allowed more than two runs in only one start. His 6.0 WAR was the 10th best among Major League starting pitchers, behind a group that included Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana, Cliff Lee, Sabathia, Jon Lester and Roy Halladay.

Chicago won its second NL Central title in a row, but it was swept by Los Angeles in the NL Division Series, the last time it advanced to the postseason.

While Harden faded away after that -- he was 18-18 the next three years with the Cubs, Rangers and A's -- Donaldson returned to his natural position in the A's system and emerged as an elite big league third baseman for a team that has advanced to the postseason the past three years.

The DH difference

The designated hitter has created a more offensive game in the American League. AL teams have averaged 4.63 runs per game in the 42 seasons since the DH was adopted in 1973, compared to 4.35 runs per game in the NL. The only time in the 42 years that the NL has outscored the AL was in '74, when the NL averaged 4.15 runs per game, compared to 4.10 runs per game in the AL.

The AL has a combined average of .265 in the 42 seasons, compared to .258 in the NL. Remove the DH and pitcher from the averages over that 42 years, and the NL actually has the edge in average at .26538, compared to the AL's .26507.

Quick hits

• Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who ranked sixth in the Majors in WAR among position players last season, was the only player among the top 10 who played in the World Series. Adrian Beltre (third), Michael Brantley (fourth), Jonathan Lucroy (fifth), Giancarlo Stanton (eighth) and Robinson Cano (10th) did not make it to the postseason. Lucroy was the only NL player among the top six. Mike Trout posted the highest mark and Donaldson was No. 2.

• Forty-six teams have won at least 100 regular-season games since the advent of the League Championship Series in 1969, but only 10 have gone on to win a World Series -- the '98 Yankees (114-48), '70 Orioles (108-54), '75 Reds (108-54), '86 Mets (108-54), '84 Tigers (104-58), 2009 Yankees (103-59), '76 Reds (102-60), '69 Mets (100-62) and the '77 and '78 Yankees (100-62). The '01 Mariners were 116-46, but they lost to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

• Recently hired D-backs general manager Dave Stewart has joined Ruben Amaro Jr. (Phillies), Billy Beane (A's) and Jerry Dipoto (Angels) as the only active GMs who played in the big leagues.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson