On a team that has lost two starting pitchers to season-ending injuries, experienced a 10-game losing streak, traded away two Opening Day starting infielders and fired its manager midseason, the bright spots through a dark tumultuous season are few and far between. But for the Oakland Athletics, the beacon of hope throughout the year has been the performance of rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks.
After starting the season in Triple-A Sacramento, the A’s were forced to call up Weeks after veteran starter Mark Ellis went down with an injury in early-June. What at the time seemed like an innocuous temporary fill-in role while Ellis was on the disabled list turned into a formal changing of the guard.
But Weeks had other ideas.
The speedy switch-hitter hit the ground running, smacking a .362 batting average through the first 13 games of his Major League career with four doubles, three triples, 10 runs scored and a whopping .574 slugging percentage. His literally fast start had the A’s in a bit of a quandary. Should they keep Weeks waiting in the wings for next season and have Ellis resume his stellar stewardship at second? Or would they make an unforeseen midseason swap in their lineup and take an extended look at the second baseman of the future?
The A’s decided that the future was now.
Within weeks, Weeks had usurped the starting job, and Ellis—the then-longest-tenured Athletic—was subsequently traded to the Colorado Rockies. The move to give up such veteran leadership in the clubhouse and on the field was surprising considering the playoff aspirations the A’s had in spring training. But at the time of Weeks’ arrival, the A’s were not meeting those expectations and the Oakland front office decided to shake up the clubhouse with a myriad of transactions. They could not ignore Weeks’ red-hot performance.
The baton pass came during a rough patch for the A’s, as they were in the midst of a season-high 10-game losing streak. But interim manager Bob Melvin thrust Weeks into the fire, and Weeks ignited a defused offense, stirring the coals to become the new leadoff man. He went on to hit .309 in June—his first month in the big leagues. And he didn’t stop there.
Weeks’ weekly consistency has him acclimated nicely to the major leagues. He has been steady throughout the season, hitting no lower than .288 in any calendar month. For the year he has a very respectable .298 batting average, to go with eight triples and 21 stolen bases. Impressive in and of themselves, but more so when taking into consideration he didn’t play until two months into the season.
Where would Weeks be in the American League Rookie of the Year discussion had he a few more weeks of playing time on his resume? Well, he should be at the beginning, center and conclusion of the conversation, regardless.
Yes, Weeks may not have the eye-popping totals at season’s end—after all, he doesn’t even have enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. However, the 24-year-old Athletic has still hung tight with the best of his rookie class. Among American League first-year players, Weeks ranks first in triples, second in stolen bases and third with 110 hits and 23 doubles.
At the end of the season, Weeks may not ultimately have the stats to garner enough votes. The Los Angeles Angels’ Mark Trumbo and Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer are the leading candidates to take home the award in the American League. Trumbo leads all rookies with 27 home runs, while Hosmer has lived up to lofty expectations with an all-around great season that includes 143 base hits, 17 home runs, 63 runs scored and a .292 batting average.
Barring a rather unexpected voting, Weeks will likely finish in the top five for the Rookie of the Year Award. But his grooming this season has bigger long-term implications. Replacing a sturdy defensive staple like Ellis and becoming the leadoff man of a budding offense is a large responsibility for any play, let alone a first-year ball player.
Next year, with a full season in store, Weeks will only get better. He needs to iron out his defensive positioning and decision making, as he has committed 10 errors at second base. He will look to improve his pitch recognition, improving upon his patience at the plate to get on base by drawing more walks. And with his already blazing speed on the basepaths, a superior study of pitchers’ pickoff moves will result in more stolen bases.
If Weeks had played a full season, who knows if he could have earned the top prize for rookies. He may not win the award, but he’s putting himself in position for extended success.