The Arizona Diamondbacks revamped their roster in the offseason, dealing outfielders Chris Young and Justin Upton, two of the more recognizable names on the roster.
The man the Diamondbacks hope seizes the center field job this spring is a 24-year-old, 5-foot-9 former Kenton Ridge Cougar nicknamed Spanky who’s writing new chapters in Springfield’s baseball history with every unforgettable play that lands him on SportsCenter.
Almost six years after Adam Eaton lined out at Cooper Stadium for the final out of the Division II state championship game, he’s roaming the practice fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., as one of the most exciting young leadoff hitters in the game.
Eaton hit .259 with two home runs and a .382 on-base percentage in 22 games after making his major-league debut last September. He’s not taking anything for granted this spring as he competes for the job.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity to fight for a spot,” Eaton said. “You go about your day the same way. It should be fun. It’s spring training.”
Eaton has always played as if he had a lot to prove. Few expected him to excel in college because he was too small. He expected to be drafted in the top 10 rounds three years ago out of Miami University, but slipped to the 19th.
Eaton hasn’t forgotten that.
“I’m not supposed to be here right now,” he said. “There’s no pressure. I’ll try to have a good spring and get better this year. I’m a 19th-round pick. I feel that takes the pressure off me. I kind of use that.”
Eaton is already a fan favorite in Phoenix. A number of fans have thanked him on his Facebook page for posing for photos and signing autographs. One fan back home in Springfield is collecting Eaton’s Topps rookie card in all the available colors.
“They’ve welcomed me with open arms so far,” Eaton said. “I’m excited to get to know the fan base. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play in front of them every night.”
Eaton isn’t popular only because he produces, but because of the way he does it. One of the common adjectives used to describe him in headlines is “scrappy.” He’s the type of player Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson loves, but that doesn’t mean Gibson is going to hand him the job.
“Would we like him to be our leadoff hitter and do what he did in Triple-A? You’re darned right we would,’’ Gibson told ESPN.com. “But it’s a lot to expect for a young kid to get 650 plate appearances and lead off as a rookie. We can’t just wish him into that role. It’s a different league, and teams are going to do different things to him. He has a lot to learn, and he knows it.’’
Eaton had a productive offseason in preparation for what he hopes will be his first full season in the big leagues. He broke his hand in the final week of the regular season when he was hit by a pitch and didn’t start swinging again until Dec. 1. Eaton said the time off allowed him to enjoy the preparation for his wedding. He married Katie Osburn, a former Miami softball player, on Dec. 14.
Osburn is from Michigan, and Eaton spent a large chunk of the offseason working out with a personal trainer in Detroit.
“You can always improve,” Eaton said. “There’s nothing you’re ever set at. As soon as you think you’re set at something, you fail.”