There were 631 players picked last June, including two Virginia Military Institute teammates, before the Royals called Nathan Eaton’s name in the 21st round.
And they drafted him as a catcher, a position he did not play in college but did play occasionally in high school.
“We drafted him as a catcher, but he has not caught for us because we like his speed and defensive versatility enough that we don’t think we’d benefit by catching him,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.
Eaton may not be the next Salvador Perez, but he could be the next Whit Merrifield. This season at low Class A Lexington, Eaton has played third base and second base. Last year in his pro debut he also played right field and center field.
“He’s a similar player to Whit in that he plays multiple positions and plays hard,” Picollo said. “Eaton has big tools and was our player of the year in (Rookie-level) Idaho Falls last year. He’s a plus runner, has plus power and a plus arm.”
Eaton stole a VMI-record 36 bases as a redshirt sophomore after sitting out the 2017 season when he was academically ineligible.
Some clubs were scouting Eaton as a pitcher. In 2017 the summer college Coastal Plain League, he logged four saves with a 1.26 ERA, while striking out 16 and allowing just six hits in 14.1 innings. He made 17 relief appearances last year for VMI.
The Royals have Eaton working as a position—or is that positions—player. He hit .354 in 66 games in the Pioneer League last season, leading the leagu with 92 hits, 37 extra-base hits and 59 runs. His 19 stolen bases ranked second.
The 23-year-old righthanded hitter began this season slowly at low Class A Lexington in the South Atlantic League. He hit .213 in April but had raised his batting line to .252/.353/.392 with two home runs and nine stolen bases through 38 games.
Eaton may not have been a high draft pick, but he is certainly on their radar screen as a prospect.
— Shortstop Nicky Lopez hit .353 in 31 games at Triple-A Omaha, forcing a callup to Kansas City. Through six games he had hit 8-for-25 (.320) and had pushed Whit Merrifield from second base to right field to accommodate Lopez on the infield.
— Brady Singer, the Royals’ top pick in the 2018 draft, threw six scoreless innings, struck out 10 and walked none in a May 16 start for high Class A Wilmington. He had gone 4-2, 2.47 through eight starts with 43 strikeouts and 10 walks in 43.2 innings.