D-backs' Eaton Embraces Pressure Of Big League Role
PHOENIX—Adam Eaton entered spring training as the top candidate to become the Diamondbacks' center fielder, and if you think Eaton felt any pressure, you don't know him. He embraces the spotlight.
"If you can't deal with pressure right now, I feel like you shouldn't be in this game," Eaton said. "Going up through the minor leagues, draft day, everything has pressure to it. You learn to deal with it through the minor leagues, and you learn to deal with it up here.
"I am ready for the opportunity, and excited for it."
The job opened when Arizona traded Chris Young to the Athletics in a three-team deal that landed the Diamondbacks reliever Heath Bell and shortstop Cliff Pennington. And Eaton appears more than ready to take it after tearing through the system in three short years after being selected in the 19th round in 2010 out of Miami (Ohio).
Eaton, a lefthanded hitter, put what appears to be the final touch on his quick rise by winning the 2012 Pacific Coast League MVP and rookie of the year awards after hitting .381/.456/.539 with 46 doubles, 45 RBIs and 38 stolen bases at Triple-A Reno. He spent the first two weeks of last season with Double-A Mobile—the same team he helped guide to a Southern League title the year before—and taken together his full-season numbers were eye-opening: .375/.456/.539 with 47 doubles, seven homers, 48 RBIs and 44 stolen bases.
As good as those numbers are, they are not all Eaton brings. He has above-average range at all three outfield positions and the arm to comfortably play in right field. After his September callup last year, he made one of the defensive plays of the season in center, racing to deep left-center field in spacious Petco Park to make a running catch before spinning around and throwing to first base on the fly to complete a double play.
Something To Prove
And then there is that motor. Eaton exudes a positive energy, and he is in constant motion. James Taylor could have been talking about Eaton with the "a churning urn of burning funk" line he used in a long-ago song. Eaton's Twitter handle includes the word "spanky."
"He's got that mentality to be a big leaguer and a really good one for a long time," said newcomer Cody Ross, who lockers next to Eaton in spring training and who is expected to play next to him in right field after Justin Upton was sent to Atlanta in a seven-player offseason trade that brought Martin Prado to the Diamondbacks.
"He has that edge, that chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove it, to show people that he is capable,"
That mentality has defined Eaton from the time he was a young player coached by his father through his years in college, when he was a second-team all-Midwest region player his final two years. He has been made five all-star teams in his three minor league seasons, and he was named the PCL's Most Exciting Player and Best Baserunner in the annual Best Tools survey of league managers.
"Well, I'm 5-8," Eaton said of his height. "I have to have an edge. You want to have that little chip, that small-man syndrome, that Napoleon syndrome. You have to have that to play at this size at this level."
Reno manager Brett Butler rates Eaton as the second-best player he has had in his time in the organization, behind only all-star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and he raves about Eaton's capacity to listen, learn and implement while playing at such a high level. Eaton had never hit leadoff regularly until last season, but he quickly learned the nuances of batting at that spot under the tutelage of Butler, one of the best leadoff men during his time in the majors.
Butler worked with him on the art of bunting, and not just toward second base but down the line at third, too. The two talked situations, when to take pitches and when to be ready to make a quick strike.
The Diamondbacks became believers after seeing Eaton in action when he was recalled last September to replace the injured Young. Eaton was 2-for-6 in his major league debut and hit .259 with seven extra-base and five RBIs in 85 at-bats before missing the final week of the season with a broken right hand, an injury that has not been an issue after offseason healing. Eaton walked 14 times, pushing his on-base percentage to .382, the kind of number that Arizona has never had out of a leadoff hitter—even when speedy Tony Womack occupied that spot.
Eaton caught manager Kirk Gibson's eye when he homered on his first at-bat in spring training in 2011 after being invited over from minor league camp, and he has only heightened the organization's interest since.
He plans to be himself this spring and let the chips where fall they may.
"I approach it the same way as I would any other year," Eaton said. "Nothing changes with expectations. Nothing changes with anything. You control yourself and what you can control, and you go about it in the way you've always gone about it. When you change things, that's when you get in trouble."