Updated Feb 25, 2013 - 12:30 pm
As Eaton goes, so will Diamondbacks? CF could be key to the season
"I'm a 5'8" guy," Eaton said following an extra bunting session long past when most of the players had already gone after the D-backs' 8-6 victory over the Rockies on Sunday. "Any small guy that's ever played professionally in any sport, I feel like those guys have to have a work ethic. Because there's so many doubters, so many guys out there that believe they can't do it."
The Diamondbacks called up Eaton from Reno last September 4 after he punished Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .381 average, a mark that led the Pacific Coast League by 30 points.
Much of the reasoning behind the move was to see how Eaton would fare in the Majors, particularly in the leadoff role.
A month later, the season had ended and most analysts felt that the D-backs had found their leadoff man of the future. In the 22 games in which Eaton played, he batted first in 20. The Diamondbacks were 13-7 in those games.
But what was it that made Eaton, a speedy centerfielder from Springfield, Ohio such a great fit for Arizona?
"I'm 110 percent all the time," Eaton said. "I'm a grinder, a guy that is going to run through walls and have fun doing it. I'm a 'play every game like it's your last' type of guy."
However, heart alone will not be enough to make Eaton a special player in the Major Leagues or a face of the Diamondbacks franchise for years to come; his play on the field would be.
As mentioned before, Eaton only played in 22 games during the 2012 season, which is obviously not a large sample size.
But what the stats from those 22 games show is the potential of just how good Eaton can be.
Last season with Arizona, Eaton had a decent .259 batting average. But he had a .382 on-base percentage, which is a solid number for a leadoff hitter.
If you take a deeper look into those numbers, Eaton had a .93 walk-to-strikeout ratio, which would have been good for eighth-best in the Majors. Compare that to his competition for the D-backs' leadoff spot, Willie Bloomquist, who had a .22 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and the competition isn't even close.
Bloomquist hit over .300 in 2012, but his .325 on base percentage is well below Eaton's mark.
One of the key things any manager wants from a leadoff hitter is contact, which translates to extending counts and putting the ball in play. According to fangraphs.com, Eaton made contact with 88.2 percent of all pitches he swung at last season; Bloomquist made contact with 85 percent.
The numbers point towards Eaton as the leadoff man for the D-backs this season, but they also point to him potentially being a top-tier leadoff man in all of Major League Baseball.
In fact, the percentage of plate appearances in which he scored a run from his major league stint last season compares pretty well against some of the game's top players.
|Player||Percent of Plate Appearances
Scoring a Run (League Rank)
|Mike Trout, LA Angels||20.2 (1)
|Adam Eaton, Arizona||18.5 (not qualified)|
|Justin Upton, Arizona||17.0 (2)|
|Ryan Braun, Milwaukee||16.0 (3)|
|Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh||15.9 (4)|
|Miguel Cabrera, Detroit||15.6 (5)|
"That's what I'm supposed to do," Eaton responded when informed of the above statistics. However, he went on to give praise to his teammates.
"It's a credit to them, it really is. The easy part is getting on base, but the hard part is for them to drive us in."
Again, Eaton's numbers are over a short, 22-game span, which doesn't mean that he will be able to perform at this level for a whole season. But it doesn't mean he can't, either.
Whether Eaton can handle being a leadoff man and a center fielder at the Major League level for a whole season remains to be seen, but Diamondbacks fans should keep an eye on Number 6. Because if he does well, chances are so will the team.
Charlie Feinerman, Contributor - ArizonaSports.com
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