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PHOENIX – Thanks to his MVP-caliber season of a year ago, Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson is being pulled from all directions for media requests this spring.
It’s proof that he has more than opposing pitchers to conquer in 2014. Donaldson also has to handle the extra spotlight that comes with being one of the top stars on a team that’s raised its national profile with back-to-back American League West championships.
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“We have a lot going on,” Donaldson said after Saturday’s workout. “I’m just trying to prioritize my time. At the end of the day, I have to still focus on myself and my team. I do not ever want to be putting myself (ahead of the team). I had a really good year last year, but nobody talks about my year if our team wasn’t as successful as it was.”
But even on a team like the A’s, where winning has been such an ensemble effort the past two seasons, a few front-line players are required to carry a heavier share of the load. Donaldson, 28, will be counted on for similar numbers to what he produced in 2013.
In his first full big league season, he hit .301 with 24 home runs and a team-leading 93 RBI to go along with sterling defense at third. He finished fourth in A.L. MVP voting.
No longer a surprise success story, Donaldson faces the challenge of backing up his breakout season with another stellar year. Whether he can will factor heavily into Oakland’s fortunes this season.
“I don’t want him with that kind of pressure going out there thinking he has to do better” than last season, A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He potentially could, but we insulate within the group. We don’t put too much emphasis on one particular player. All he has to do is go out there and perform in the fashion he has and play with the intensity he does.”
It’s been a remarkable past two years for Donaldson. He arrived at spring training in 2012 as a catcher, still struggling to distinguish himself and carve out a major league spot. But after third baseman Scott Sizemore was lost to a season-ending knee injury that spring, Donaldson made the switch to third base and he’s looked like a natural at the position.
In 2013, he put it together offensively and proved to be one of the most complete players in the A.L. Only Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen – the N.L. MVP -- and Angels outfielder Mike Trout posted higher WAR ratings (Wins Above Replacement) than Donaldson’s 7.9. WAR is a stat designed to judge a player’s overall value to his team.
A’s first baseman Daric Barton is a converted catcher himself, and he knows the difficulty of moving from behind the plate to try to master another position.
“That surprised me more than anything,” Barton said of Donaldson at third. “I always knew he could hit. Honestly, I think he’s a better third baseman than he was a catcher. He put in a lot of work, he really did. And it paid off.”
Barton logged significant time as a minor league teammate of Donaldson’s, but he witnessed Donaldson truly come into his own last season.
“I saw it in his work ethic, his everyday routine,” Barton said. “He was the same guy, but a different guy from who I had known in the minor leagues. Something clicked for him and he took that into every day.”
Donaldson was Oakland’s most complete hitter last season, so it will be interesting to see where Melvin slots him in the batting order. He drew starts in seven different spots last season, but things clicked well when Donaldson moved into the No. 2 spot for late August and much of September.
He hit .326 with four homers and 15 RBI as the No. 2 hitter and scored 21 runs in 23 games. Donaldson acted as protection for leadoff man Coco Crisp, and he got on base to provide RBI opportunities for Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes.
“I enjoy hitting in the 2-hole,” Donaldson said. “… Bob hasn’t really talked to me about it, but wherever he puts me, I’m sure it’s gonna be best for our team.”