Imagine that you’re a star pitcher and first baseman entering your senior year of college and projected by most to be an early draft pick in the upcoming June draft. As the buzz begins to build, you realize that some teams see you as a slick fielding, high average hitter with power potential while others believe you have the most upside as a power lefty with excellent control. Either way, you’re turning pro.
Now imagine, that the Oakland Athletics have you made a supplemental first round pick, with the lack of offense in their system they see your abilities best set as position player. You report to Single-A, completely bypassing rookie league ball with visions of being the next Mark Grace. As you skyrocket the the system, hitting 22 home runs and 91 RBI’s between two levels in 2008 it becomes the clear that the big leagues beckon. A spring training invite in 2009 nearly leads to you making the parent club, and you head to Sacramento to put some time in at right field as both Jason Giambi and Daric Barton lie ahead of you on the depth chart. A series of unfortunate knee injuries limit you to just 28 games in 2009. Off-season surgery on the patella tendon in your left knee leads to further complications and your 2010 season is cut short before it can even begin. Further complications lead to a second surgery, and essentially a career at the crossroads. This is the story of Sean Doolittle, and how his decision to return to the mound has saved his career and put him back on the fast track to the major leagues.
Sean Doolittle’s career has now played out like a Choose You Own Adventure book. For those who are unfamiliar with this childhood staple. it’s essentially a book where each chapter ends in a decision that the reader must make for the protagonist. Sometimes the decision works out and you continue your story, sometimes you choose poorly and you wind up being devoured by alligators or falling down an endless abyss like Ozzie Smith on that episode of the Simpsons. For Sean Doolittle, he faced a decision to either hang the cleats up and retire, continue a frustrating rehab that has thus far been filled with setbacks, or completely reinvent yourself at the lowest levels as a pitcher at the behest of the organization. Choosing wisely, Doolittle picked up the ball and headed to the mound for the first time in his professional career as a 25 year old project.
Under the watchful eyes of the A’s minor league staff, Doolittle’s transformation began last summer on the backfields of the A’s minor league complex deep in the desert of Arizona. Armed with an electric mid 90’s fastball and a developing breaking pitch, Doolittle appeared in only one game at the tail end of the rookie league season. Expectations were low this coming season, as the A’s would assign him to Single A where he would very much be a “work in progress”. This fledgeling reliever would simply dominate the level, striking out an absurdly high 21 batters in just over 10 innings and earning a promotion to Double-A Midland. While already exceeding expectations, one would expect him to be brought back down to earth by the more advanced hitters of the Texas league. Continuing to defy the odds he carried on shutting down hitters and before he could sign a lease in Midland he was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento. Doolittle’s dominance would not stop there. Striking out 48 in 25 combined minor league innings while allowing only 2 earned runs, he statistically could not be ignored. After all the set backs, his resurrection was completed on June 4th when he was promoted to the big club after just two months in minors. Unbelievable. Unheard of. Uncanny.
His tragic injuries could of been a sad epitaph to a disappointing career. He could of called it quits, and no one would of blamed him. Through strength and dedication as well as a willingness to embrace change, Sean Doolittle may have wrote the prologue to a blessed Major League career.