A lot has changed for Jemile Weeks in 365 days. This time last year, Weeks was coming off a season at Double-A Midland during which he hit .267 and missed two months with a hip injury. Making the big league club was a long shot at best with the veteran Mark Ellis blocking his path at the same position.
And this time last year, Weeks was ranked by OaklandClubhouse as the organization's ninth-best prospect. But after a series of trades moved some of the club's most notable players, many now consider the second basemen the face of the franchise. Club executives even went as far as publicly deeming Weeks untouchable in trade discussions – a notion virtually unheard of for any player in recent years.
"(It's) flattering in a sense," Weeks said at the team's Fan Fest event. "Just to have that type of backing by your organization, by everybody up top. That's all I can say other than I'm just thankful for the faith in myself by the team."
In 2011, Weeks led Major League rookies with a .303 average and eight triples in 97 games for the A's. The switch-hitter became a fixture atop Bob Melvin's lineup by stealing 22 bases and having a .340 on-base percentage, good for third-best among American League rookies.
But while he impressed many during his rookie campaign, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Weeks was thrown out on one-third of his steal attempts, tying him for the fourth-lowest stolen base percentage in the AL. He also led AL second basemen in errors with 13 while having the lowest fielding percentage by an Oakland second basemen since Mike Edwards in 1979.
Weeks spent this offseason working out with his brother and current Milwaukee Brewers' All-Star Rickie Weeks, as well as All-Star Prince Fielder and recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Barry Larkin, among others, in his home state of Florida. The elevation from the minor leagues didn't change his offseason routine much, he said.
"I feel like I always have something to work on. You go into every offseason trying to perfect that. Maybe the focus of what I worked on has changed," Weeks said.
The team's first-round pick in the 2008 draft (12th overall) spent much of the end of 2011 working on his technique stealing bases and consistency with the glove. He credits his improvement in those areas to the relationship he has with Melvin.
"When he first came in, we sat down, he talked to me. He told me he felt like we were going to be a tandem for years to come. I said, ‘OK.'"
"He pulled it out of me," Weeks said. "Letting me go out there and play every day – go out there and fight certain things…He' just been a real positive influence on my short career so far. I'm glad to be able to move on with him."
"He's not in awe of anything," Melvin said last August during a series in Cleveland.
"It really impresses me the fact that he'll go through a rough stretch and won't get down on himself. Each and every day he'll go out there and grind and expect to do well. For a rookie to be that resilient this early in his career is a real credit to him."
On a young team with a considerable amount of unproven talent, Weeks could find himself in a leadership role – something often unfamiliar to a 25-year-old. Players such as Brandon Allen, Michael Taylor, Collin Cowgill, Chris Carter, Jermaine Mitchell and Kila Ka'aihue have all spent considerable time in the minor leagues looking to take the next step in their careers. Having Weeks as a resource could prove advantageous.
"A lot of young guys maybe haven't had the little bit of time that I've had. I think they'd be able to cope with me and talk with me and figure out a few things that I've learned from last season," Weeks said.
Melvin wouldn't go as far to say that he expects any type of vocal leadership from Weeks this season, but he did mention his ability to lead by example.
If Weeks' knack for improvement over the last 12 months rubs off on those young players, the club's rebuilding process could be much smoother than expected.