Is Jemile Weeks on the verge of stardom?

As the A's prepare to resume the regular season Friday night against Seattle in their home opener, second-year second baseman Jemile Weeks appears to be priming himself for stardom.

During spring training, A's fans focused most of their attention on the team's newest sensation, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Meanwhile, last year's sensation quietly continued to hone his skills for a season that just might draw attention outside of Oakland. Weeks, who hit .303 and stole 22 bases in 97 games after his June debut, had a strong spring. He had a .339 average and looked far better defensively than he did last year, when he led A.L. second basemen in errors with 13.

"I see him improving because Jemile's just a guy who looks to improve every day," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think I'm even more impressed with his defense right now than his offense. When I got here last year, in my opinion he was a well below average defender at second base. But, boy, he has come a long way. He looks like he wants to be an All-Star and a Gold Glover at some point."

Weeks, 25, doesn't know what his ceiling might be. But he definitely doesn't see this frightfully inexperienced A's team finishing in the basement.
"I don't think you can set expectations on this team," he said. "We have so many new faces, and there are so many opportunities out there for us. It's a new group with a lot of different ways to attack. Guys are out there to prove something. You might find the next Manny Ramirez or Albert Pujols. You don't know who it might be, because the team's young. Anything can happen."

Weeks knows he'll have to set a strong tone as the leadoff hitter for the A's to rise above the low expectations outsiders have regarding the team's fortunes this season. He is braced to accept that role, which he did throughout the spring as well as during the offseason, when he consulted Hall of Famer Barry Larkin about how he might improve his defensive skills.

Weeks also put in extra time at spring training working on defensive drills, maintaining proper mechanics, making the routine play and improving his throwing. Almost every day in Arizona, Weeks showed up early in the morning with infield coach Mike Gallego to take extra ground balls, often with shortstop Cliff Pennington.

"The last thing you want is to have a coach have to prod somebody into doing early work," Melvin said. "But it was just the opposite with him. I think the last day before we left for Japan, we had an easy day and didn't have early work scheduled. But Weeks and Pennington both went to Gags and told him, 'We want to continue our program.'"

It has showed in games thus far. Weeks looks smoother, more confident and better able to use his speed to expand his range. His throws are surer and stronger, and he looks more in sync with Pennington around second base.

"I think I just put in the work," he said. "I took a lot more ground balls, but I also worked on quality as opposed to quantity. The more you do that, the better you tend to get. But I have to continue to do it throughout the season. I'm not there yet."

Weeks also knows he has set a formidable bar for himself offensively based on last season. Can he match or exceed the impressive totals he logged in 2011? His high average this spring may have been a positive indicator.

"I think from the outside, people want to see the same thing or better," he said. "For me, it's just a case of putting my best on the field."

Weeks sees the same kind of projection for the team. He thinks this group has more energy than last year's club, simply because it wants to better the low preseason expectations.

"We've got power, speed, all-around game in our lineup, and our pitching should be OK, too," he said. "We can kind of hit you from every angle. It's what you need to compete at the major league level and be a good team. If we can get the best out of each person, I think it could be a special team."

As for becoming an All-Star, Weeks has his work cut out in a league that includes Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. But he stands out as one of Oakland's potential stars. "I'm ready to go," he said. "We're 1-1, and we've already shown we can make things happen. We had a winning record in spring, and I think that may have surprised some people. Hopefully we can keep surprising them. I think we will."

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