May 7, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Josh Donaldson could play another position besides third base. He was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs as a catcher. Heck, he pitched for Auburn after signing as a shortstop.
But Donaldson said he has the mentality of a third baseman, and he went into spring training this year with a chance to show the Oakland A's he belonged there once and for all. Moneyball GM Billy Beane took a look.
"Billy Beane pulled me aside one and asked me, 'Josh, who's our starting third baseman?'" remembered Donaldson. "I looked at him with a puzzled look. Is he trying to set me up? But he put his arm around me and said, 'You're our starting third baseman. There's nobody else for the job. Just you.'"
And with that Donaldson, who played in the big leagues at catcher before converting to third base on a full-time basis in 2012, is hitting .303 with three homers and 23 RBIs as Oakland's third baseman. He was named the American League Player of the Week last week. Saturday, he hit a game-winning home run in the upper deck in Yankee Stadium.
Donaldson arrived in Auburn from Mobile for fall baseball practice in 2004 and played shortstop, second base and third base. When the season began in the spring, Donaldson was looking for any chance to get on the field.
"My first appearance in college baseball was as a pitcher because I was so eager to help the team," he said. "I said, 'I know we need pitching, let me go throw in the bullpen.' I started doing that, and then I started hitting pretty well.
"I started playing third every day. The next year I came in and they asked me if I wanted to try catching because we had lost one of our catchers to the draft. I said I'd do it if it would help our team get better."
He played catcher and third his sophomore and junior years, and hit .349 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs his final year.
"When I was at Auburn I definitely considered myself more of a third baseman because I grew up in that position. I had caught sparingly as a kid."
The Cubs were nonetheless impressed with his catching abilities. They drafted him with the 48th overall pick in 2007, and traded him in a six-player deal in 2008. He was mostly a catcher in the minors before playing his first big-league games 2011. He got a longer look last season when he hit .241 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 75 games.
"It just so happened that at the end of the 2011 season we had a surplus of catchers and not enough third basemen, so I started to play third base every day," Donaldson said.
The 2012 season was his option year with the A's. Donaldson wanted to showcase his talents, just in case, so he played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
"I was just trying to show the scouts that I was a pretty versatile player in case Oakland took me off the roster and I'd be picked up by another team," Donaldson said. "It just so happened that the first week of spring training in 2012 our third baseman went down with a knee injury, and they asked me to move over to third to start the season. I felt pretty comfortable. I struggled with the bat, so I was sent back down, sent back up, sent back down, and the last time I was called back up everything started rolling for me. I was playing good defense and started to hit. It's been a good transition so far."
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