See also: Previous 2011 Arizona Fall League Features
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Adam Eaton goes through a similar routine before just about every one of his Arizona Fall League games. The Salt River Rafters outfielder stops to sign autographs for the fans positioned along the outfield wall, chatting away the entire time and occasionally pausing to pose for a photograph. When approached by autograph collectors to sign a large volume of his baseball cards, he’ll ask to keep a few of the cards so that he can hand them out to kids waiting for an autograph.
“For guys like us to sign autographs for kids,” Eaton said, “it really makes their day. For me, they almost make MY day. I take pride in pleasing the fans.”
Signing a few autographs each day isn’t the only way Eaton, a member of the Diamondbacks organization, connects with his followers. His grinder mentality and consistent all-out effort make him a favorite wherever he plays. It’s the only way he knows to play the game.
“To be honest, I don’t think there’s any other type of baseball player,” Eaton said. “Being a gamer I’ve always held to be one of the greatest compliments a ballplayer can receive . . . I’ve never been the flashiest player, I’ve never been the most polished player, but just going out and playing hard and giving my all day in and day out is all I can do.”
Eaton’s style of play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Diamondbacks organization.
“He plays with as much energy as I’ve seen anyone play on a consistent basis,” said Mike Bell, Arizona’s farm director. “He plays harder than anyone else on the field . . . it’s unbelievable that he’s able to sustain it consistently.”
His way of playing the game has helped Eaton move through the Diamondbacks system more quickly than originally anticipated. Coming out of college, he didn’t exactly fit the profile of someone who would zoom through the minor leagues. The 22-year-old stands only 5-foot-9 and didn’t get picked until the 19th round of the 2010 draft after his junior season at Miami (Ohio). Expecting to be chosen higher, Eaton contemplated going back to Miami for his senior season before deciding to sign with Arizona for a $35,000 bonus.
Since starting his pro career last summer in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, Eaton just keeps hitting. He batted .385/.500/.575 with Missoula in 2010, ranking as the best pure hitter in the Diamondbacks 2010 draft class. He was assigned to high Class A Visalia after his first spring training, skipping over the short season and low Class A levels. Eaton didn’t slow down in the California League, batting .332/.455/.492 in 65 games before moving up to Double-A Mobile, where he hit .302.409/.429 and helped the Bay Bears capture the Southern League championship.
Despite the flashy numbers at every stop in his minor league career, there are still areas for improvement in his approach at the plate. The lefthanded hitter is still much better against righthanded pitchers, hitting .337 with nine of his 10 homers against them while batting just .263 against southpaws. That has held true so far in the Fall League, where he was hitting .333 (16-for-48) but was just 3-for-16 against lefthanders.
He also tends to hit with what one scout called “a Japanese style” in which he starts to drift out the batter’s box before making contact. Eaton acknowledged that he’s working to cut down on the drift. But he mainly just needs to get more experience against advanced pitching.
“Adam just finished up his first full season and I’m hard pressed to find a lot of flaws or areas of improvement for him,” Bell said. “He’s put up good numbers wherever he’s at. The goals are for him to just continue doing what he’s been doing against better competition.”
But for all this talk about his hitting, it’s his work on defense that brings Eaton the most pride. He’s got a plus arm and good range at all three outfield positions.
“There are days that the bat’s not going to be there,” Eaton said, “but (on defense) you can play hard, you can run into fences, throw guys out, and really be the backbone.”
He also professes to be a student of the game. When asked what he’s learning from his time in the AFL, in which he’s teamed with players from four other organizations, Eaton confesses to listening to the pitchers on his Rafters team to try to pick up some tidbit of information that will help him if he gets to face any of them in the regular season. But he also enjoys talking with other hitters.
“I like hearing other approaches,” Eaton said. “There are different approaches, other ways of playing baseball. I’m a student of the game. I absolutely love the game of baseball, love learning about it . . . I soak it in.”
Eaton has good speed and uses it aggressively, stealing 34 bases in 48 attempts during the regular season and getting off to a 5-for-6 start in the AFL. With his bat, speed and glove, he continues to prove he’s got a future as a major league regular, a projection that exceeds the fourth-outfielder profile he might wear with less gaudy production. Anyone that’s been around Eaton knows not to sell him short.
“He gets the most out of his talent that he can,” Bell said. “He’s confident and he’s got the talent to back it up. He keeps proving to everybody that he belongs at the next level and that he’s a big leaguer.”
• White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is the latest inductee into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame. The Phoenix area native played for the Sun Cities Solar Sox in 1996 while a prospect in the Dodgers organization. He was honored in a ceremony prior to the Saturday afternoon game at Salt River Fields.
• Scouts at AFL games will need to recharge the batteries on their radar guns in preparation for the first appearance Monday by Reds lefthander Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban who is regarded as the fastest pitcher in baseball with speeds up to 105 mph is expected to appear in three games for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in preparation for a possible conversion to the big league rotation in 2012.
• Brewers first-round pick Jed Bradley made his AFL debut on Thursday with a perfect 1-2-3 inning in relief for the Peoria Javelinas. The Georgia Tech lefty was listed on the Javelinas squad prior to the start of the season but then temporarily removed from the roster due to a minor injury suffered during instructional league.