Adam Eaton came off the disabled list on Tuesday, which is good news for the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks. It is also apropos. The two are a perfect fit. Few expected the D-Backs to be leading the National League West in mid-July, and the 5-foot-8 outfielder is a classic overachiever. Drafted in the 19th round out of Miami (Ohio) University three years ago, the 24-year-old logged an OBP north of .450 in three minor league seasons. After making an impressive big-league cameo last year, Eaton came into the current campaign looking to be Arizona’s leadoff hitter. A spring training elbow injury delayed that opportunity until this week.
David Laurila: Why did you play your college baseball at Miami of Ohio?
Adam Eaton: First, I wasn’t drafted out of high school. Miami is close to home — I’m from Springfield, Ohio — and it’s also one of those places I fell in love with right away. I loved the coaching staff and the whole aura. The school has been around for over 200 years and it’s just a beautiful campus.
DL: Did you have any large-school options?AE: Yeah, definitely. I could have gone down south, like N.C. State, or to [the University of Cincinnati]. I could have gone to most of the [Mid-American Conference] schools. But like I said, Miami was love at first sight. I kind of quit looking after I visited there.
DL: What were your expectations when you got drafted?
AE: I just wanted to come out and do what I do. I was going to try to get on base. I continually say it, but it’s just me putting my best foot forward every day. If that’s good enough, great. If not, I go home knowing I put everything I had into it.
DL: Is doing anything you can to get on base how you’d describe your game?
AE: For sure. That’s what you try to do as a leadoff hitter. You need to get on base and score runs. It’s what dictates how well you’re playing — how many times you get on and how many times you score. I try to put myself in the best position to do that.
I have to know the strike zone. You can get on by a hit-by-pitch, a walk, an error, a base hit, it doesn’t matter. All of that funnels into just getting on base. However you can do it, that’s what you do.
DL: What is your approach at the plate?
AE: It’s all dictated by the situation. That’s especially important as a leadoff hitter, because you want to get the team going. You pay attention to who’s pitching and where you’re at in the game. You need to approach it that way. Late in the game, with runners at first and second, I might swing at the first pitch. If it’s the third inning, and we just had a long inning, I may take a few pitches. The situation is how I have to hit. My approach has basically always been the same. It’s modified here and there, but in very small ways.
DL: Is there an organizational hitting philosophy?
AE: They let us do our thing. Being a professional, one thing is… it’s your career. It’s how you want to go about it, and if they don’t like it — or if there’s something going wrong — you’re not going to around for very long. But it’s kind of your own approach. If it needs to be modified, they’ll try to assist you with that, but for the most part it’s your career.
DL: Have you made many adjustments since signing?
AE: Oh gosh, yes. There are a number, too many to count. I’ve learned so many things since I’ve been here. I’ve modified here and there. For instance, I’ve closed up a little bit. But as far as my approach to hitting, it’s kind of tough to say. You grow as a player tremendously when you get to the professional ranks, because you play every single day. At the same time, you still have those core attributes.
DL: Do you try to use the whole field?
AE: You have to. I don’t know too many hitters who don’t. You have to be able to hit to all fields, especially as a leadoff hitter. You have to be able to scatter the ball in every direction. You have to be able to use the bat. That’s whether it’s a hit-and-run, moving runners or just putting the ball in play.
DL: Are you a fan of small-ball?
AE: For sure. I have to be. I’m 5-foot-8. That’s what I’ve grown up on. It’s what I’ve always been taught. I’m not a guy who is going to hit a ton of home runs, so I’m definitely a fan of small ball.
Some smaller guys have a little more power. Dustin Pedroia is a smaller guy. But I’d say I’m a more of a typical leadoff hitter. I have to scrap to get on base, and maybe I’ll have occasional pop.
DL: How would assess your defensive game?
AE: I just try to go out there and get better every day. It’s the same as hitting and base running. I want to get better and put our team in a good position defensively.
DL: What is your strength defensively?
AE: I don’t know. That’s for you guys to write about. You can look at me and tell me what I’m good at. I know it’s a cliché, but I just play hard and try to be a good baseball player.
DL: Are you satisfied with the path you’ve taken to get here?
AE: Anybody who plays in the big leagues, however they get there, is going to happy about it. There’s no feeling like it in the world. I’ve been happy with my progress, but at this point I haven’t done anything yet. You can have all the accolades, but once you get here it’s a new day and you have to put any past accomplishments behind you. Even if I get 15 years in the big leagues, every single day is going to be a day to prove myself.
[Note: This interview was conducted in spring training and was held until Eaton returned from the disabled list.]