Adam Eaton arrived in West Palm Beach, Florida for his second Spring Training with the Washington Nationals early, early. Early like he was posting pictures from the Nationals’ Spring Training facility on Instagram on January 22nd early. You can’t really blame him, of course, considering how long it has been since he was 100% healthy and ready to go full on.
Eaton, who turned 29 last month, suffered a season-ending injury 23 games into his sixth major league campaign last April, lunging for the first base bag while legging out an infield grounder, and tearing the ACL and meniscus in his left knee while suffering a high ankle sprain as well.
It’s been a long road back, but the veteran outfielder is ready to go in what will be his second season with the Nats after they acquired him from the Chicago White Sox in a December 2016 trade.
“I haven’t seen live pitching in — it’s going to be almost nine months, ten months, coming into Spring Training,” Eaton told MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern and Jon Paul Morosi in an interview on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Eaton added. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that since I was 3-4 years old when I actually started baseball where you actually get nine months off of live pitching, so I think that anxiousness is more... injury-wise with maybe hitting first base or turning corners, whatever it might be, so it’s really just trying to get back in the flow of the game.”
Defensively, Eaton said he thought he would be fine, in spite of the fact that he will be shifting over to left field this season, where he’s played just 42 games in career (vs 127 in right field and 385 games in center).
“I think defensively I’ll pick it up pretty quickly. I’m changing positions to left field but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem at all, I’m kind of excited about the challenge over there,” Eaton said.
“But just, again, seeing live pitching, seeing these arms and tracking as many pitches as I can just like I would any other Spring Training, but it’s just, like I said, a little bit more of a learning curve.”
There will also be a learning curve as Eaton and his teammates get used to having a new manager at the helm, and a new coaching staff outside of returning third base coach Bobby Henley.
Dave Martinez comes to the Nationals with a solid reputation, however, and as Eaton said, they’ll all get to know one another once everyone arrives in West Palm Beach.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things with Martinez,” he explained. “Coming from a great organization like the Cubs and what he’s been mentored by says enough, so I’m excited to get to know him, we’ll have plenty of time.”
Everything he’s heard thus far, however, has been positive.
“That’s kind of the line across the league,” Eaton said, “... is he’s a man of character and a guy that knows the game really well, inside and out, and is highly-respected, so that’s the kind of guy that we want to run the ship, and we’re glad to have him.”
Eaton also discussed the slow Hot Stove season, change of pace chatter, and the free agent class for next winter, which will, as of now, include the left fielder’s teammate, Bryce Harper, who’s set to test the market as part of what’s going to be an impressive collection of talent.
Eaton was asked how Harper will handle the pressure and if, as Joey Gallo said recently after working out with Harper this winter, he thinks the 25-year-old outfielder will be locked in during his contract year.
“Believe it!” Eaton said. “He’s going to be locked in. He loves this. He absolutely loves it.
“And that’s what makes him so much different than anybody I’ve ever played with. I wouldn’t say he enjoys the limelight but he definitely digs deeper in it. He enjoys this type of pressure. When he’s up there in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, he wants to be that guy. Now people will tell you that, day in and day out, tell you that, but they really don’t mean it, they really — their deepest, darkest secrets, you know what, let the next guy do it, I don’t want to have this on me.
“That dude, he is locked in any way shape or form in the most stressful situations. He wants either the ball in his hand if he’s defensively or at the bat... and you know he’s going to do it, and that goes for this year as well.
“I think he’s absolutely going to have a terrific year, I don’t think it’s going to be any different than any other year, he’s going to come in with a focus every single day, day in and day out.”
Eaton will try to match that intensity, but coming off injury, he’s going to be forced to take it slow this Spring.
In another MLB Network Radio interview last week, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said they will take it easy on Eaton and teammate Daniel Murphy this Spring as each works their way back from their respective injuries.
“Coming to Spring Training we’re going to go very, very easy on Daniel Murphy,” Rizzo said. “He had the microfracture surgery and he’s coming along well, and we’re going to go easy on Adam Eaton too, to get his sea legs under him so he can perform [over] the long haul of the baseball season.”
Hopefully he’s healthy all season in 2018, because the early returns from Eaton last April (.297/.393/.462, seven doubles, two home runs in 107 plate appearances) were really impressive.