Eaton Provides Spark For Reno
Since his college days at Miami (Ohio), Adam Eaton
has been written off by most as a fourth outfielder due in part to his short stature. The Diamondbacks' 19th-round pick in 2010, Eaton is waiting in the wings at Triple-A Reno, where he leads the minor leagues in hits, runs and doubles as the Aces' leadoff man and center fielder.
Perhaps another reason for his projected low ceiling as an amateur prospect was also the fact the he's a grinder, someone who has a no-nonsense attitude and will occasionally rub the opposing team the wrong way because of it. No matter the past, Eaton is now knocking at the door and could become the Diamondbacks' everyday center fielder hitting at the top of the order.
"He's probably the most exciting player in the league day-in and day-out that I've seen in a long time, with his speed and what he can do defensively," Reno hitting coach Rick Burleson said. "The people that see him play every day see him as a leadoff guy in the big leagues for years to come."
Unlike the undersized-amateur stereotype he's compared to, Eaton has a unique blend of attributes he brings to the table to defy whatever odds have been placed against him. On top of the intangibles, Eaton has the approach, bat-to-ball skills and instincts to become a sparkplug in every facet of the game.
Burleson said he has clocked Eaton from home to first base on bunts and ground balls at 3.46 and 3.76 seconds, respectively—indicating that he's at least a plus-plus runner. There have been three occasions this season where Eaton has turned ground ball singles hit directly at an outfielder into doubles. He also brings that same combination of speed and instincts while patrolling center field.
"My goal every season, whether it be at the plate, on the bases or in the field, is to be a difference-maker," Eaton said. "I play within myself but always try to do something unexpected to help my team win ballgames."
That, he has done. Reno sits atop its division and Eaton leads the league in hitting at .379/.452/.536 in 478 at-bats and is 37-for-47 in stolen base attempts. Unfortunately for the Aces, their leadoff hitter may not be around when the playoffs begin.
Coming into the year, Eaton's biggest developmental need was improving his hitting against lefthanded pitching. Between high Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile in 2011, Eaton hit just .263/.386/.331 off southpaws. For Reno this year, Eaton is hitting .385/.464/.486 against lefties and attributes that to calming down his front side and developing a two-strike approach when he steps into the box.
"Just taking a little more inventory against lefties and hunkering down has been very beneficial," Eaton said. "Before, I would get out on my front foot a lot. Coming out of that arm slot, I don't have as much time to react against lefties since I can't see it coming out as well as I can against righties. So, just getting myself in a position where I'm comfortable and know what the book is on the pitcher has been huge."
There were reports following last season that Eaton's swing was unconventional, with one scout likening it to a Japanese approach in which he gets an early jump out of the box. Burleson said that Eaton's mechanics, when he's going well, are typical of aggressive lefthanded hitters.
"When he's staying behind the ball, that isn't his swing," Burleson said. "He has a high leg kick at times and I think that contributes to it a little. But, he's done a much better job at calming things down and when he's going well, he's a line-drive hitter from the left-field line to right-center field."
While standing at just 5-foot-8, Eaton has a strong, developed body and surprising pop, though it's mostly gap-to-gap. As Eaton continues to fine-tune each detail in preparation for the big leagues, Burleson said he's still tapping into his pull power. Still, as long as he does his homework on each pitcher, Eaton has the hand-eye coordination and compact swing to adjust to any pitch. He likes to put the ball on the ground to use his speed and keep infielders on their toes.
Every team has at least one player that teammates and fans love to have on their team, but would hate playing against. Typically, it's players exactly like Eaton, who wears his emotions on his sleeve and plays at full-tilt every day. Dating back to his sophomore year in college, Eaton has consistently led or been amongst the league leaders in getting hit by pitches. This year, he's been hit 19 times—the most in the PCL.
"Obviously, the goal of a leadoff guy is to get on base," Eaton said. "I'm looking for any way on, and if that means getting inside the other team's head, or crowding the plate and taking a pitch in the back, you know, that's good for us."
Eaton signed almost immediately after his junior season at Miami, a year in which he posted a 1.175 OPS. In a combined 446 at-bats for the RedHawks and Rookie-level Missoula in 2010, Eaton was hit by a pitch in almost 10 percent of his at-bats.
During one at-bat against Rookie-level Billings in late-July that year, Eaton tried calling for time as the pitcher was taking too long to deliver the pitch. The umpire did not grant him his request and a few seconds later, Eaton re-adjusted and deposited the pitch down the right field line for a home run. Unpleased with the umpiring during that particular game, Eaton first admired his shot and then tried glaring back at the umpire, who by that time was running down the line to judge if it was fair or foul, and instead locked eyes with the catcher. Billings players took it personally, and promptly hit him later in the game.
"I don't know how to put this any more direct than this, but he has a little prick in him that teammates appreciate," Burleson said. "He's a no-nonsense guy that comes to beat you every day and his teammates appreciate that as well as the staff."