PHOENIX -- In 2011 he was dubbed "untouchable." In 2012 he wasn't even on the Oakland Athletics playoff roster. So what could 2013 have in store for Jemile Weeks?
Perhaps we all saw a preview on Saturday as the A's christened their Cactus League season against the Milwaukee Brewers in a 2-1 loss. Weeks drove a double deep to centerfield in his first at-bat. Later he made a spectacular play as he dove to his right to snag a hard-hit ball that he flipped to Hiro Nakajima who completed the double play.
Weeks is fighting for his job at second base -- on Saturday he essentially landed the first punch. While getting off to a quick start in Game One doesn't mean a whole lot, it certainly helps.
"It's definitely motivation," Weeks said. "I'm in a position where the word is you have to win your job. So I am going to go about this like I need to win my job. It's a little different than knowing you have your job."
He knew he had a job last offseason. That didn't go so well.
During an electric rookie campaign that saw Weeks hit .303 with a .340 on-base percentage, and 22 stolen bases, the franchise traded veteran Mark Ellis to make room for their up-and-coming second baseman. As the franchise shipped off All-Stars Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey, they made it clear that Weeks wasn't on the market.
Tabbed the face of the franchise, Weeks didn't live up to expectations in his sophomore season and he slumped hard. His average dropped to .221, his OBP dropped to .305, and in 21 more games he had 25 less hits, 11 less doubles, and 16 less RBI.
Weeks ended up getting demoted to Triple-A Sacramento on August 21, and couldn't help the A's as they went on a record-breaking run that landed them in the postseason. He only appeared in five games after being recalled on September 10, and didn't make the playoff roster. It must have been a long offseason for Weeks, which takes us back to his first at-bat on Saturday, after he smoked that ball to the wall in centerfield, a familiar face was waiting at second base for him.
"After he hit that double I went up to him and said 'You stay right there, it's the same swing, you've got to stay right there,'" Brewers second baseman and older brother Rickie Weeks said.
That's not all he said.
"He said I've had some good springs in the past and I changed something I tried last year during the season, we're not going to go that route this year," the younger Weeks added. "We're going to stick with what works."
The Weeks brothers admittedly don't talk much baseball when not on the field. Rickie, an All-Star second baseman, does keep a close eye on his younger brother, though, even watching film of him to help if he is struggling. Understandably, he is protective and thinks very highly of his younger sibling.
"He's an All-Star second baseman, I know that for a fact," the older Weeks -- an All-Star in his own right -- said.
So what did go wrong with Jemile last year? One common explanation is that he hit a few home runs early in the season and started trying to hit the ball in the air too much. As a speedster, he is better served hitting the ball on the ground and beating out throws. They says speed doesn't go into slumps, but you can't beat out a popup. Rickie seemed frustrated about that assertion.
"It's not like he's trying to go up there and launch the ball 500 feet," the older Weeks said. "When you swing hard sometimes everybody sees that he's some 175 pound dude trying to hit the ball 500 feet, but that's just his swing path."
Rickie believes that Jemile swings hard, but called it a controlled swing. It worked for him in his rookie season, but not last season. There's another explanation for why Weeks struggled. He wasn't 100 percent. He was often seen hobbling around the clubhouse, but battled through it and stayed off the disabled list.
"He'll never tell you he was banged up, but there were times when he was banged up," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's slight to begin with and the running part of the game is his game, and he wasn't running as much based on the fact that he felt his legs weren't there."
Whether that was truly the issue, or not, Weeks won't be handed anything this season. He knows that. He worked hard this offseason on his conditioning and appears to have the right attitude about the situation he is in. From his meteoric rise to his fall from grace, Weeks may have learned a life lesson.
"The game still has to be fun," Weeks said. "You still have to play within your game. It's no different than what I would do everyday. I play hard, good or bad."
Weeks went 1 for 3 and played slick defense, but grounded into a double play. The A's other second base option, Scott Sizemore, served as the team's designated hitter and went 1 for 2 with a walk. Sizemore will get his first crack at second base on Sunday. The race is on.