Selected in the 21st round of the 2018 Draft out of Virginia Military Institute, infielder Nathan Eaton has quickly begun to draw attention from both Royals fans and prospect enthusiasts.
The 22-year-old Eaton has been a regular in the Legends lineup, starting the year with Lexington after 66 games with Idaho Falls, where he popped 37 XBH in 260 AB (20 doubles, 12 triples, five homers) and drove in 53 runs on a .354 BA.
Outstanding numbers, of course, though it’s a bit of a hitter’s fun park out there. But never mind all that.
Now having appeared in 63 games for Lexington, Eaton is showing a similar bent for the extra-base knock.
After a very slow April in which he slashed .213/.312/.313 in 80 at-bats, Eaton started slowly heating up in May (.247/.342/.371 in 97 AB, .713 OPS). June has been a different story, altogether: in 74 AB over 17 games, thus far in the month, Eaton as 10 doubles and a homer, and has driven in 16 runs while scoring ten. Accordingly, his slash line has spiked, tremendously (.351/.402/.527, .929 OPS). His June performance peaked on the 20th, when he smacked four doubles and drove in two runs in an 8-7 Legends win vs. Greenville. He’s 15-44 in his last ten games (.341/.388/.523, .910 OPS), though he’s certainly benefited from a .395 BABIP. Still, don’t get it twisted: this kid has a swing made for the gaps.
Eaton gets all he can out of his leverage and his swing, at the plate, though he doesn’t seem to swing wild or carelessly, very often. He squares up evenly with the pitcher and uses a wide-stanced leg lift to generate power. The swing itself is typically short to the ball, and at his best he seems intensely focused on the pitch; never takes his eye off of it, and doesn’t seem to have significant difficulty in pitch recognition. He keeps his hands inside the ball very well and maintains a classic, two-hand grip throughout the swing. He’s quick out of the box, and runs the bases well. He isn’t afraid to be aggressive, when the situation calls for it, but he seems to pick his spots well in terms of taking the extra base or swiping a bag. His 13 steals in 14 chances are evidence, to that effect.
Eaton doesn’t strike out at an unmanageable pace, though for the type of hitter he seems to be (gap-power, slash-and-run), I’d like to see those Ks decrease, a bit, but these K rates are virtually in-line with 2018’s Idaho Falls performance. He’s drawn 28 walks, this season, and has struck out only 12 times in 82 plate appearances in June. Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.
Eaton’s batted-ball location is markedly pull-side (49.5%), and while he’s certainly a ground-ball hitter (1.21 GB/FB ratio), he’s also sporting a line-drive percentage of 24%. Learning to go with the pitch and focusing on hitting up the middle would both be a boost to his hitting.
Eaton has played 55 games at third base (7 at second base), and it’s been a bit of a rough go for him (12 errors in 143 chances, .916 fld pct.). He has the range to play third, but his arm may be better suited for second. His quickness and ability to turn the double play has been a highlight of his short time at the keystone, but he’s also struggled defensively there (27 career games at second, seven errors in 127 chances). His athleticism and (from all appearances) his attitude will help him adjust, and he may well settle into either role, but I’d like to see more of his arm before I could make a more educated judgment. Overall, I like to keep in mind that he’s only 129 games into his pro career, less than half of that in full-season ball.
Parenthetically, Eaton was being scouted as a RHP, before he was drafted by the Royals; as an 18-year old out of Thomas Dale HS in 2017, PG had him clocked at 88 MPH, which put him above the 88th percentile in the Class of 2015, according to their rankings. They also had him ranked as the 6th-best shortstop (who also played catcher, by the way) in the state of Virginia. Eaton does have the range to play short and could be a good fit there, but Jeison Guzman isn’t going to be moved from the position anytime soon.
As it appears, Eaton has the look of a gap-to-gap hitter with extra-base pop, who knows when to swipe a bag or advance on a long hit or errant throw. He’s fast becoming an exciting player to watch. Expect his numbers to continue to climb, even after that inflated BABIP declines to a more realistic level.
Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)