Rookie Review: Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks recalled outfield prospect Adam Eaton for the September stretch run. Rob Neyer wrote about Eaton yesterday for Baseball Nation, noting that most sources project Eaton as a fourth outfielder, despite his amazingly good minor league track record.
Here's my take on Eaton.
Adam Eaton was an extremely successful outfielder at the University of Miami-Ohio. He hit .294/.374/.406 in 50 games in his freshman year in 2008, then boosted his production to .350/.472/.617 with 11 homers and 28 steals in 2009, then .368/.466/.709 with 13 homers and 30 steals in his junior year of 2010. Scouts gave him good reviews for his work ethic, speed, athleticism, and throwing arm, and his statistics were obviously excellent, but he lasted until the 19th round in the draft and earned a bonus of only $35,000 (more on that in a moment).
Eaton continued ripping pro pitching after signing, hitting .385/.500/.575 with 20 steals, 35 walks, and 44 strikeouts in 226 at-bats for Missoula in the Pioneer League. Of course, that's the Pioneer League. Lots of people hit well there. Bumped up to High-A Visalia to begin 2011, he remained extremely productive with a .332/.455/.492 mark with 24 steals in 65 games. But hey, that's the California League; lots of people hit well there.
The same is not true for the Southern League, a more neutral environment. Promoted to Mobile for the second half last year, Eaton remained productive with a .302/.409/.429 mark, showing some power slippage but continuing to control the strike zone well (30 walks, 35 strikeouts in 212 at-bats) and swiping 10 bases. He hit .300/.391/.325 in 11 games for Mobile this year, before moving up to Reno in late April. He's hit .381/.456/.539 in Triple-A, with 53 walks and 68 strikeouts in 488 at-bats, adding 38 steals in 48 attempts.
Overall, Eaton hit .375/.456/.523 this year with 47 doubles, seven homers, 59 walks, and 76 strikeouts in 528 at-bats, swiping 44 bases in 55 attempts.
In 319 minor league games, Eaton is a career .355/.456/.510 hitter, with 98 steals in 121 attempts. So, what's the deal here? This guy tore it up in college, and he's tearing it up in pro ball. Why the tiny bonus? Why didn't he get more respect?
Eaton is a left-handed hitter and thrower, born December 6, 1988 in Springfield, Ohio. The key thing that has kept him off top prospect lists is size: he's just 5-8, 185 pounds. However, he's got good tools, including above-average running speed, and a very strong throwing arm. While he doesn't have huge home run power, he has good pop and can sting the ball to all fields. Minor league pitchers haven't found any weaknesses in his approach, and he's handled both fastballs and breaking balls well. Easton is also well-regarded for his work ethic and intensity.
He did have some issues showing power against left-handed pitching last year, hitting .263 with a .331 SLG, but that hasn't been a problem in 2012: he's hit .387/.469/.486 against lefties in Triple-A. The other negative thing you can say about him is that his best numbers have been put up in strong hitting environments, such as the California League and Reno in the Pacific Coast League. That's true, but it's hardly his fault. He hit in the Southern League, too, and there hasn't been anything too hinky with his home/road splits.
While Arizona doesn't have an immediate regular opening for Eaton, he doesn't appear to have much learning left to do in the minors. Although it would be easy to categorize him as a future fourth outfielder, his combination of speed, gap power, on-base ability, and sound defense would make him a regular for some teams, at least as a David DeJesus type.
(Portions of this article were originally written in June, but this has been revised to incorporate end-of-season information and more analysis)