Future Expectations: Adam Eaton, OF

Mar 1, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Adam Eaton (73) during photo day at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE


At the risk of being cliché, dynamite sure does come in small packages as it does with Adam Eaton, one of the Diamondbacks top hitting prospects. His lack of size has haunted him throughout his career in terms of respect and rankings by so-called experts. But he hasn't let that stop him in his pursuit of being a Major League ballplayer and he's pounding on the door.

Pinch-hitting for Blue Bulldog, I've done a summary of Adam Eaton's credentials and assess what we might expect from him as he makes his way to the big leagues. I might be more bullish on him than others, but considering how wrong he has proven all the experts along the way so far I'm reasonably confident he'll prove me right in due time.

Check out the full story after the break.

Background
Eaton was drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 draft out of Miami-Ohio, which was somewhat shocking to him as he expected to go somewhere around the 4th or 5th round according to some. Eaton was so upset about dropping so far he briefly considered going back to college for his senior season. Thankfully for the Dbacks he changed his mind and signed rather quickly to get going on his professional career.While it has been challenging enough for Eaton to overcome the negative stereotypes of being just 5-8, he hasn't had the best of luck by missing out on showcase opportunities throughout his early career.

After a breakout junior season in high school in which he hit .486 and was named to numerous Ohio all-star lists, a bulging disk in his back limited him his senior season and he had to settle for an offer from Miami-Ohio instead of some of the bigger-name programs. He suffered a similar fate in college after an outstanding sophomore season at Miami. He was scheduled to play in the prestigious wood-bat Cape Cod league but he was the victim of a car accident that wiped out his entire summer season. A monster junior year at Miami still had plenty of buzz being generated about this scrappy little hitting machine from Ohio. The Dbacks invited Eaton to a pre-draft camp and he turned some heads within the organization. But the consensus inside headquarters was that they could wait on drafting him. Little did they know they could wait until the 19th round.

Early Minor League Career
The left-handed hitting Eaton came out of college hitting and he hasn't hit a single bump in the road since signing in June of 2010. Eaton was sent off to Missoula to begin his career and mutilated opposing pitchers to the tune of a ridiculous .385/.500/.585 Avg/OBP/SLG line with 14 doubles, 4 triples and 7 homers in 230 AB.

He skipped Low-A and was sent directly to Visalia his second season and didn't miss a beat by posting a .332/.455/.492 line in the first half of the season. The Dbacks felt the need to challenge Eaton further by moving him all the way to AA Mobile at the break and once again Eaton just kept hitting. In addition to his prodigious On Base totals Eaton also displayed plenty of speed by playing CF and swiping 54 bases his first two years. He also flashes some pop for a little guy with a strong, wrist-y swing that allows him to elevate some balls.

Eaton started the 2012 season in Mobile but after Chris Young went down and A.J. Pollock was called up to the big leagues Eaton was promoted to Reno to take over center field. It is no surprise what Eaton has done in the hitting-favored PCL. He's been flirting with .400 since arriving in Reno and it's a rare day Eaton doesn't have multiple hits. Pollock's return to Reno has relegated Eaton to LF but through Saturday he's hitting.397 and has swiped 15 bases. His home run totals are starting to abate but he's on a current pace that would produce 50+ doubles and around 50 SB with a mind-boggling .460 OBP.

It's official. Eaton will get his chance to play in the Major Leagues and it may be sooner than later. His production is probably what convinced the Dbacks they could afford to trade Colin Cowgill.

The Upside
Eaton projects as a top of the order guy who can get on base, doesn't strike out a lot, can steal a base and play some quality outfield with excellent range and a good arm. Those kinds of guys don't grow on trees. Some might equate him to Colin Cowgill and thus be a little leery about whether he can duplicate these feats at the highest level. While Eaton's Reno numbers are in some ways similar to Cowgill's, the big difference is that Eaton performed at a much higher level on the way up than Cowgill ever did. Cowgill likely has a hair more pop than Eaton and their defensive abilities are eerily similar, but Eaton has demonstrated on base skills equal or greater than some of the better top of the order guys in the game as they were coming up. He hasn't shown a single blip on the screen as he's progressed which suggests he can do it in the majors as well. While some may have been rightly concerned that Cowgill was a product of the PCL in regards to his advancement as a prospect, the same cannot be said of Eaton because he's done it every step of the way.

The one player on the Dbacks roster who Eaton should be compared to is Gerardo Parra as that's the first person for whom he would be a potential replacement. And if Minor League comparisons are what matters then there's no comparison. Parra's minor league career doesn't come close to Eaton's. Based on their comparative minor league production Eaton should be a much better player than Parra. The one difference may be that not many have the same cannon for an arm that Parra has.

Eaton has some similar characteristics to Parra. He's fiery like Parra. He's scrappy like Parra. He's a good teammate like Parra. While I'm aware that the vast majority of Snakepitters are Parra lovers, I'm not one of those. I don't dislike him. I just don't think he's anything special and is a bit of a knucklehead on the field at times. This is an area I think Eaton would surpass Parra.

One other interesting stat about Eaton? He can handle lefties. He's hitting .447 against them this year. I would have really liked to see what Eaton could have done with a full season at Mobile where the bulk of the future major league pitchers are prepping. His half-season numbers are good enough to suggest he can hit against anyone. But it is the one level where his stats were least human and not gaudy beyond belief.

The best-case scenario for Eaton is he projects as a leadoff or number 2 hitter who can post a solid .350 OBP with a handful of homers, 25-30 doubles and 20-30 SB while playing a serviceable CF or a really good left or right field. If he learns to add some additional power to his stroke and get into that 10-15 HR range and become an above average center fielder, he has fringe all-star potential.

The Downside
A guy like Eaton does have some downside risk. If he can't stick in CF then you're strictly buying his bat to play left or right field. And without a little more power production that's going to be more difficult to swallow. We've already seen what the club thinks about left fielders that don't have much power with Parra. After posting a career year and earning a Gold Glove the team went out and got a full-time replacement in Jason Kubel. While I think Eaton has a little more to offer than Parra that's still an unknown at this point. Plus the team already has a CF of the future in A.J. Pollock. So it doesn't seem likely that Eaton is the team's long-term plan to patrol center. That doesn't mean Eaton can't force his way into that spot but that's that much better he'll have to be.

Scouts do like his swing a lot and he does have some power elements to it. His current production in Reno (a power friendly league) is not providing much evidence that is going to happen. But he's certainly more than a slapper as he hits the ball with authority and is a line drive machine. If you're looking for major league comps you might be thinking Kenny Lofton or Juan Pierre. Eaton does have the speed to steal some bases but he's not quite in their league. Conversely he hits the ball with more authority than either of those and his minor league prowess vastly exceeds their production; and he has a better outfield arm than both.

Some might argue he's been the beneficiary of a couple of incredibly high BABIP years as both his Missoula season and his Reno season to date were well over .400. But that's what hitting lots of line drives will do for you. There's probably some who wish he had been converted to second base some years ago but that ship has clearly already sailed. He's an outfielder. Too bad. Those kinds of numbers coming up for a second baseman would have some drooling on themselves.

I don't have a lot of data regarding his CF skills other than a few scouting reports that say he's a good but not great center fielder. And a couple of others that even say it's very questionable that he can stay at CF. It's also telling that Pollock is the default choice between the two. But Eaton at least has the tools in terms of speed and his arm is probably above average for the position. He could possibly be coached up in that regard.

Another question about Eaton is whether his base-stealing skills will play at the highest level. He hasn't put up gaudy numbers on that front in the minors though they are still a significant plus. But once he comes up against pitchers and catchers dedicated to stopping the running game will he still be a factor?

All these things considered it seems at worst Eaton could be a very good 4th outfielder. He can play center field in a pinch (a la Parra), he can play all three positions, he can pinch run and pinch hit, and he can be used in double switches with anyone. He'd also be a better than replacement outfielder if one of the stars goes down.

Conclusion
Eaton has an awful lot going for him. All the evidence points to him being a good major league player with plenty of upside. One has to like his ceiling more than they would be concerned about his floor. He's a hard worker who plays with a lot of fire and energy and would be sure to become a fan favorite. Those kinds of players rub off on teams and become extremely valuable. If Eaton comes close to reaching his ceiling he'll be the team's leadoff hitter for years to come. If he plays closer to his floor, he'll become a clone of Gerardo Parra, which isn't the worst thing.

The Diamondbacks have to feel fortunate to have Eaton. If not for his bad luck early on missing out on some showcase opportunities Eaton might be a very highly rated prospect just waiting for the call. He's had to earn everything he's gotten which has probably made him a better baseball player who is on the cusp of becoming an impact player for the Diamondbacks.

The bigger question is how does he fit in with the current team? Do they trade Young? Do they let him languish in Reno for another year while Upton, Young and Kubel man the outfield? Do they trade Parra so Eaton can at least be the 4th outfielder? Or do they trade Eaton because there's no room at the inn?

The problem is that Eaton is ready now. On many another team Eaton would already be in the show. He's just waiting for his chance. With both Pollock and Eaton nearly ready, finding outfielders for the near future is not one of the team's bigger problems.

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