On Monday (May 7th) I watched the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners’ AAA) play the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks’ AAA). The game was typical PCL action, sloppy, tons of runs and homers, with balls lost in the sun. The score was something like 37-18 (okay, more like 13-10, but it took forever), but it was the day I fell in love with Adam Eaton.
Baseball fans will remember that Adam Eaton was a former first round pick of the Phillies and was later traded to the Padres. He made the Majors with the Padres and pitched in 6 seasons for them, earning a 4.34 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 2.21. The Texas Rangers decided it would be a good idea to trade for him, and sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young (the pitcher) to get him. He rewarded the Rangers by developing a finger problem that limited him to 65 innings. He posted an ERA of 5.12 and a .3 WAR. He became a free agent and would pitch for 3 more years in the MLB with 3 different teams, and posted a 6.40 ERA and -4.0 WAR. In his career, Eaton had a 1.5 WAR and he has been out of baseball for 3 years. No one could fall in love with this Adam Eaton.
Lucky for the readers that have waded through the prose above, I am talking about a different Adam Eaton. This Adam Eaton plays for the Diamondbacks’ AAA affiliate. Eaton leads off for the AAA team, and has a .384/.444/.534 line in a small sample size in a very hitter friendly league. This is not what impressed me about Eaton. I was watching the game to watch Erasmo Ramirez, a MLB quality arm who has just been sent down to get more work as a starter. Eaton was not impressed by this, and hit the first pitch of the game, chopping it to 3rd. It chopped a little high, and Vinnie Catricala will impress no one with his glove (unless you are impressed by bat only players trying to play out in the field), and the ball somehow chopped just over Catricala’s head. Eaton not content with a single, ran all the way to second, and it really wasn’t close. While we were spoiled by Bryce Harper’s amazing feats on the base paths on Sunday, Eaton displayed well above average speed on the double. In his second at-bat, he sprayed a bunch of fouls (to be fair, Erasmo doesn’t “miss bats” and was giving up a lot of fouls), and had a 5 pitch at-bat. He pulled a ground-ball that snuck through the infield for a single. It was a bit of a BABIP hit, but he made an “Ichiro-like” (announcer’s words not mine) like swing, something Eaton evidently does a lot. In his 3rd at-bat, after a 1-1 count, he took a good breaking pitch, then another, and then another for a walk. The next batter hit a base clearing triple, and he nearly caught the runner in front of him before scoring. In his fourth at-bat, he took a good pitcher’s pitch, fouled a ball off himself, swung like Ichiro (only to miss), took 2 more balls, watched the runner on base get caught stealing, and then grounded out to shortstop. In his final at-bat, he fouled the first pitch back, fake bunted for 3 straight balls, then hit a long loud foul to LF, and then grounded into a fielders choice. He advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch and was stranded there.
Defensively, he put that speed to good use and made an amazing catch out in center field, leaving his feet. This catch is even more amazing once you consider the fact that the sun was a huge factor for all the fielders, causing two pretty funny “errors” (for some reason, official rules say to rule these as hits, which is a big joke) in the game (Eaton had problems with the sun as well on another fly-ball).
Since being drafted in the 19th round out of the University of Miami, Eaton has put up a .451 OBP and .494 SLG. The power is not much to write about (.151 ISO in his MiLB career), which is probably why Keith Law considers him a solid 4th outfielder type, but he is the rare guy who makes contact (strikes out less than average) and walks well above average. As I saw in the game, he wasn’t hacking at everything, and he generally made contact when he swung. The Hardball Times Forecasts (h/t to @blcartwright) projects him to be an above average outfielder, with a .304/.378/.380 slash line and 3 WAR per season (league average for regulars is 2 WAR). He won’t hit many homers (as the low slugging number projects), but he should steal quite a bit of bases with that speed and play a solid center field. The Diamondbacks have good outfielders, so even with a couple injuries, there isn’t a whole lot of rush in bringing Eaton up. However, when this does happen, he should be good, certainly much better than the other Adam Eaton.