Arizona rookie Eaton ready to seize leadoff role

Updated: February 14, 2013, 9:54 PM ET
Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- 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 that of 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 been using as motivation his entire athletic life, and it's made him the super-energized character the Diamondbacks 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."

While manager Kirk Gibson is careful not to anoint Eaton his opening day leadoff hitter and center fielder, he is admittedly 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."

The Diamondbacks, Gibson said, "are open to him being a leadoff hitter, an impact-type player for our team and lineup, being a very good player for years to come."

"Now that's for him to go earn, though," Gibson said. "I'm not going to give that to him today."

Position players reported to camp Thursday, with the first full-squad workout set for Friday. And by trading away center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks gave their outfield a decidedly different look this year.

The best guess would have Jason Kubel back in left field, with Eaton in center and Ross in right. As was the case last year, Gerardo Parra would fill in at all three outfield positions.

General manager Kevin Towers has been a big booster of Eaton all along. Prototypical leadoff hitters are not easily found, and Towers believes Eaton can be that guy.

"I'd like to give it to Eaton just because of the speed dynamic that he brings," Towers said. "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. 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."

Towers wants the team to get away from relying so much on the home run to score. He points to the World Series champion San Francisco Giants as an example of how good it is for a team to score first and then hold onto that lead with strong pitching.

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 started in Mobile, but quickly was sent to Reno, where he hit an eye-popping .381, stole 38 bases and scored 119 runs in 119 games before getting his taste of the big-time.

Defensively, Gibson noted that Eaton needs some "seasoning" in the outfield. Eaton knows that Young made playing center field look easy.

"It's a big outfield," Eaton said. "But having my locker next to Cody Ross is not a bad thing. I'm going to try to pick up as much as I can from him. He's a great ballplayer."

Eaton said he never really batted leadoff until last year.

"I was a 3-hole hitter in high school and all of college and even rookie ball and in high-A," he said. "I'm still learning. Brett Butler (his manager in Reno) helped me out a lot in Triple-A. From one of the premier leadoff hitters to ever play this game, it was a huge benefit for me to listen to him on a daily basis and really every day pick something up from him and learn."

By bringing in the likes of Ross and Prado, the Diamondbacks want a gritty, hustling, grinding team. Eaton figures prominently in that plan.

"That's me in a nutshell," he said, "kind of a grindy, contact-hitter guy that's going to get on base. I don't know what they're thinking, but if they have me in the lineup, I'll do my best."

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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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