If the next few years go well for Tommy Mendonca, he always will remember Dec. 6 as Independence Day.
That's when the Turlock High grad and College World Series hero with Fresno State was left off the Texas Rangers' 40-man protected roster and plucked by Oakland in the minor league Rule 5 draft.
"This is a 100 percent positive thing for me," Mendonca said. "Texas has a great third baseman (Adrian Beltre) that they owe about $100 million, and there's another prospect at third base (Mike Olt) that they'd moved ahead of me.
"I was stuck. But I look at the A's and they didn't really have an everyday third baseman last year. There are more chances for me to move through the system with the A's than I had with the Rangers."
Keith Lieppman, entering his 22nd season as Oakland's director of player development, said the A's had Mendonca high on their draft list in 2009 before the Rangers grabbed him in the second round.
"A lot of this pick-up had to do with us liking him in the draft," Lieppman said. "He hasn't had the breakthrough season yet, but his bat has great potential and it was worth a shot to see how he would fit into our system."
Mendonca, 24, was hoping 2012 would be that breakout year, and he was willing to change positions to improve his stock. So at this time last year he was working out as a catcher, a spot he'd never played, then went to spring training exclusively as a catcher.
Very late in spring training, the Rangers suddenly moved him back to third base.
"At the end of spring training, all I was doing was catching," he said. "I was sent down to minor league camp, and that was the first time I got reps at third base.
"I saw five ground balls and got 10 at-bats in games as a third baseman, and wasn't prepared as everybody else getting reps at their positions. I really wasn't prepared for anything. It was a difficult thing to see, especially when you're trying to get in a groove to make a squad."
Mendonca began the season at Triple-A Round Rock, where he hit .208 in 63 games 61 games at third base and one as a designated hitter. After a full offseason behind the plate he got exactly one start at catcher.
"That was a quick experience," Mendonca said. "I caught one game and that was the end of that. It was kind of ridiculous, but it gives me something to put in my back pocket. We lost that game, something like 7-3, but in my opinion I did a great job. I didn't have any passed balls. But I also hadn't learned how to call a game, and that was the tough part."
He was sent down to Double-A Frisco, where he hit .277, but overall it was a lost season. Mendonca suffered a concussion that cost him playing time, and also lost time to an arm injury suffered when his elbow was bent awkwardly in a tag play at third base.
On the day of the Rule 5 draft, Mendonca received a message that he had been taken by Oakland. What the message did not make clear was whether his name was called in the major league or minor league portion of the draft.
Had the Athletics taken Mendonca in the major league Rule 5 proceedings, he would have had to stay on Oakland's major league active roster for the entire 2013 season or be offered back to Texas.
"I was thinking that going to the major leagues would have been nice," Mendonca said. "But there were so many different things going through my head."
As a minor league Rule 5 draftee, Mendonca will be eligible to open the 2013 season at any level of the Oakland organization. He could open the season at Triple-A Sacramento, but the situation at third base with the major league team is anything but settled.
The A's opening day third baseman likely will be Josh Donaldson, who hit .241 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 71 starts at third base for Oakland in 2012.
The only other third baseman on the A's 40-man roster is Eric Sogard, who has 20 major league starts at the spot. Unless the A's re-sign free agent Brandon Inge, that could be their hot corner situation heading into spring training.
Mendonca also will be battling on the third base depth chart with Sacramento incumbent Steven Parker and free agent signees Scott Moore (Astros) and Andy Parrino (Padres.)
Yes, there are a lot of names in the mix. No, none of them are named Beltre.
"If someone really likes you enough to take you in the Rule 5, that's awesome," Mendonca said. "I'd really like to meet the person who made that decision for Oakland, because they gave me a fresh start.
"I'm really looking forward to spring training with a new team and with better opportunities than I had with Texas. I'd like to make the big club, but if not then I hope a lot of local people can come watch me play in Sacramento."