It was a normal day on the field in October. Daniel Robertson was taking batting practice when his metal cleat stuck in a turf mat. His foot stayed still as his right leg and knee continued to turn.
"I felt my knee and I was like, ‘oh, shoot,'" Robertson said.
Tests would reveal a torn meniscus, which cut Robertson's Instructional League camp short and would alter his off-season training. The injury required surgery and has kept Robertson from picking up a bat thus far this off-season. However, more than four months after the injury, Robertson is feeling good about the health of his knee and believes he will be ready to play at the start of minor league spring training next month.
"I have been putting in a lot of hard work to get my leg back ready to go. I feel really strong and I think I'm ready to get out there and get spring training going," Robertson said. "I feel if I'm not 100 percent, I'm close to being there and I still have a couple of weeks to get myself ready. I feel like I'll be ready to go when I get out there. No limitations."
The knee injury was about the only misstep for Robertson in his first professional season. The A's took Robertson with the 34th overall pick out of Upland (CA) High School this past June. Robertson came to pro ball with the reputation for having an advanced approach to hitting and the arm strength and athleticism to be a solid defender on the left-side of the diamond.
That scouting report was reflected in Robertson's play with the Arizona Rookie League A's. In 29 games at that level, Robertson defended well and posted a .297/.405/.554 line with four homers and 10 doubles in 101 at-bats. He walked more than he struck-out (16 walks to 15 strike-outs). Robertson's play in Arizona earned him a late summer promotion to short-season Vermont, where he competed against players three years his elder.
The numbers weren't pretty for Robertson in Vermont (.181/.238/.234 in 94 at-bats), but the Lake Monsters' coaching staff raved about his maturity and his raw ability at the plate and in the field.
"We talk about ball players, he's [a] prime example of a ballplayer who is good in the field. He's got a good swing and as a young kid, he handles himself well at this level," Vermont hitting coach Casey Myers said during the season.
Vermont manager Rick Magnante, who has also served as a scout for the A's for many years, compared Robertson's game to "somewhere between a [Will] Middlebrooks and David Wright type of player."
Robertson didn't worry about the numbers when he was with Vermont and he learned a lot from his experience in the New York-Penn League.
"Maybe the numbers didn't show it, but I feel like I had a lot of good, quality at-bats that sometimes helped the team win," Robertson said.
"I saw a lot of good pitches and I felt like I had a good approach at the plate. It's going to take time. It's going to take a lot of consistent at-bats at the higher levels like that. For my first experience, to get my feet wet up there, I felt like it was awesome."
Robertson was the second of three picks the A's made in the first and supplemental first rounds last season. All three players were selected out of high school and all three quickly formed a tight bond. Robertson knew the A's top pick, Addison Russell, from playing in some of the same high school showcases, and Robertson met the A's third-overall pick, Matt Olson, when the two were flown to Oakland to work-out at the Coliseum.
Robertson, Russell and Olson were teammates to begin their pro careers with the AZL A's. Although all three would receive promotions to Vermont at different times, they remained close throughout the regular season and that friendship has carried into the off-season.
"We had a great bond and we fed off of each other while we played together," Robertson said. "We weren't trying to compete with each other. We were all there and we had each others backs and we were rooting for each other. We all really had a good relationship that will last as long as we are playing this game.
"It's really cool to see something like that. Even in the off-season, Addison came out here to California and we hung out quite a bit for the week that he was here. We think that is really cool and something that you don't see very often."
The A's front office has been thrilled with the early returns from their 2012 draft class.
"It was a deep draft for us and we feel like a number of those guys are going to be here in Oakland," A's GM Billy Beane said at the A's 2013 FanFest in late January.
Both Robertson and Russell were drafted as shortstops, although A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota said after the draft that they projected Robertson as a third-baseman long-term. Robertson played third base when he and Russell were in the line-up together, but he often slotted at shortstop when Russell wasn't a factor. The A's were impressed with Robertson's work both at third base and at short.
Robertson has plenty of experience at both positions, having played third base until his senior year of high school, when he was moved to shortstop. He enjoys both positions, although he has visions of playing at third alongside Russell in Oakland in the future.
"I have always thought that [third] is where I would end up and I see myself in the future as a third baseman," Robertson said. "When they gave me the start at short, I just ran with it. I enjoyed it a lot. I feel like I am comfortable at short and I feel like I got a lot more instruction in Arizona. I learned a lot more new things that related to shortstop.
"When me and Addison were playing together and he was at shortstop and I was at third, I loved that the most. I feel like our duo on the left-side of the infield was legit. Hopefully that can translate to the higher levels. When I do play short, I feel super comfortable and I love it there."
Although Robertson hasn't been able to get into the cage yet this off-season as he rehabs his knee, he has a good idea of what he plans to work on improving at the plate this season.
"I'm going to keep my same good, solid approach and try to find good pitches to hit," Robertson said. "I found myself in Vermont chasing some balls here and there, so if I go back to staying within myself and within my approach and looking for good pitches to hit and maybe drawing a few more walks, then I think I'll be alright.
"When I was up there [in Vermont], I was getting out of my element and swinging at bad pitches. Going back to that solid approach that I have had for several years, I think that is the biggest key."
Assuming Robertson is healthy during spring training, he is likely to begin his first full professional season in the Midwest League with the Beloit Snappers. Robertson isn't focused on where he will be assigned or where he will finish the season, however.
"I'm not trying to go out there and set a bar or set a level that I think I should reach," Robertson said. "I feel like if I go out and play the way that I do, I feel like everything else will be taken care of. Wherever they want to put me, just go out and do my best and go from there.
"I'm just ready to get out there for spring training and prove to them that I am healthy and we'll go from there and see what happens. I'm not trying to set any bars and say, ‘oh, I need to get here by the end of the season.' I feel like if I just play, and do what I do, and do what I love to do, everything will take care of itself."