With the Diamondbacks trading away Chris Young in late October, they got rid of the biggest roadblock to the success of one of the most unlikely prospects in the game. Sure, Kevin Towers is collecting outfielders like canned food during the Cold War, but no one who can handle CF on a regular basis. Enter the other Adam Eaton. For those of you who don't remember, regular Adam Eaton was a first-round pick of the Padres who went on to be a fringy starter for the entirety of the aughts. He posted an ERA+ of over 100 only once and accumulated 8 WAR for his career.
So it's not a particularly high bar to clear to be the Adam Eaton of choice in baseball history. But an unlikely alternative has arrived on the scene. To understand the long shot that the most recent Adam Eaton was, we only have to go back to 2010. Eaton was a 19th round senior sign out of Miami (Ohio) who signed for a whopping $35k bonus. As a 5'8" outfielder, Eaton has always had his share of detractors and a quick and easy reason to be overlooked. After all, even the Diamondbacks passed him over nearly 20 times before finally selecting him.
The easy thing to say here is something overly dramatic like "this is when Eaton took matters into his own hands" or "Eaton really wanted to stick it to all the teams that passed on him", but that's neither true nor instructive. Instead, Eaton's minor league stats speak for themselves:
|Major League Totals||.259||22||85||19||22||3||2||2||5||14||15||2||3||0||.382||.412||.794|
|Minor League Totals||.355||319||1210||263||430||83||16||24||152||166||196||98||33||5||.456||.510||.966|
Source: Baseball America
Yes, that's a career .355 AVG, .456 OBP, 24 HR and 98 SB in 319 games. When you hear prospect evaluators talk about how a player is going to have to hit all the way up the chain to prove himself, this is exactly what they mean. He has forced his way into Arizona's plans and now is looking at the inside track on a starting job for 2013.
So what can Eaton be at the major league level? The quick and dirty answer is a pesky lead-off hitter with plus-plus speed, strong contact skills and on base ability. He has more doubles and triples (which he could accumulate a lot of at Chase Field) power than over the fence power, but his home park will help a few extra balls leave the yard. Where he'll be able to help fantasy owners most is in the runs and steals department, and he's got the potential to be an option even in shallow leagues.
When we did the OF rankings, they were compiled prior to the Chris Young trade and Eaton was outside of my top-75. However, in light of all of the Diamondbacks roster shuffling, right now I would have him just outside the top-60. There is still potential for Eaton to lose the job to Gerardo Parra, though I don't think the odds of that are too high. There's also clearly performance risk for someone who has only had 85 AB at the major league level. But with that said, he may have the most fantasy value of any National League prospect in 2013.
The stars have officially aligned to give this long shot a chance to prove himself at the highest level of the game, and I like his chances to do so. If things go his way and Eaton runs with the job, maybe that means the next time he receives $120,000 from the MLB players association, the checks will actually be meant for him.
My way too early 2013 Adam Eaton projection: .284 AVG with 8 HR, 46 RBI, 97 R and 35 SB in 550 AB.