Arizona diamondbacks: At leadoff , D-backs have big hopes for little man Eaton

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z Arizona diamondbacks: At leadoff , D-backs have big hopes for little man EatonThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SCOTTSDALE - His general manager has described Adam Eaton as the quintessential leadoff hitter - scrappy, fast, a daring threat to cause havoc on the bases.

The Arizona Diamondbacks rookie has quite an opportunity this spring, and he intends to make the most of it.

Eaton knows the pressure is on. But, as he put it, "if you can't deal with pressure by now you shouldn't be in this game."

"I don't feel any," he said. "I'm ready for the opportunity and excited for it."

Eaton's locker at the team's spring training facility is next to new teammate Cody Ross, who already has noticed that the young center fielder plays with "an edge."

"Well, I'm 5-8," Eaton said. "I have to have an edge. You want to have that little chip, that small-man syndrome, that Napoleon syndrome. To play in this game at this level, you have to have that."

It's something Eaton has used as motivation his entire athletic life, and it's made him the super-energized character the D-backs foresee at the top of their order, although it's been made clear he isn't just going to be handed the job.

"Again, Napoleon and 5-8, you have to have that energy," he said. "You have to have kind of a spunkiness to you. Ever since I was little, playing in the backyard, I was always the smallest guy, running around people and having fun, so I think it's worked out."

Manager Kirk Gibson is careful not to anoint Eaton his opening day leadoff hitter and center fielder, but he is intrigued by the possibility. Gibson liked what Eaton did at Triple-A Reno last season and in the 22 big league games he played before he broke his right hand when he was hit by a pitch.

"You could see the kind of element that he could bring to a team," Gibson said. "We've never had a leadoff hitter since I've been here. That's exciting. That changes the way our lineup goes. You get a guy that's disruptive at the top of the lineup, that can get on base, that can chop the ball, put pressure on the infielders. He's very aggressive on the bases."

By trading center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton, the D-backs have given their outfield a different look. The best guess would have Jason Kubel back in left field, with Eaton in center and Ross in right. Gerardo Parra would continue to fill in at all three outfield positions.

Prototypical leadoff hitters are not easily found, and Arizona general manager Kevin Towers believes Eaton can be that guy.

"I mean, depending if we go with (Aaron) Hill or (Martin) Prado in the 2-hole, we've got good contact hitters right behind him," Towers said. "You can hit and run, you do a lot of things. It's not only his threat to steal second but he was very effective in the minor leagues at stealing third as well."

Eaton, just 24 years old, has made a remarkable impact from modest beginnings. He was selected in the 19th round of the 2010 draft, the 571st pick overall, out of Miami of Ohio.

In 2011, he hit .332 with 24 stolen bases in 65 games at Class-A Visalia before being promoted to Double-A Mobile, where he batted .302 and stole 10 bases in 56 games. Last year he was quickly sent to Reno, where he hit .381, stole 38 bases and scored 119 runs in 119 games before his call-up.

"That's me in a nutshell," Eaton said, "kind of a grindy, contact-hitter guy that's going to get on base. ... "If they have me in the lineup, I'll do my best."

D-backs' Opener

• Who: D-backs vs. Colorado at Scottsdale, Saturday, 1:10 p.m.,

Tucson games

• March 17: San Diego (ss) vs. D-backs (ss) at Kino Stadium, 1:05 p.m.

• March 21: Chicago Cubs (ss) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1:05 p.m.

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