The Arizona Diamondbacks had a logjam in their outfield, so their willingness to trade incumbent center fielder Chris Young comes as a surprise to no one. What they got in return for Young may be worth questioning, but that’s a topic for another day.
What remains for the Diamondbacks is four major league starting outfielders for three spots.
There’s nothing saying that the Diamondbacks are done making moves this off-season, as they have made it known that right fielder Justin Upton is available for the right price, but they’ve also let it be known that that price is quite steep.
Assuming Upton remains with the Diamondbacks, he will get the lion’s share of playing time in right field. Most of the at-bats in left field will go to Jason Kubel.
That leaves 2011 gold glover Gerardo Parra and rookie Adam Eaton to fight over the at-bats in center field.
Neither is the defender that Young was, with Parra’s defensive recognition coming for his work in left field. Last off-season’s signing of Kubel left him as the odd-man out in the Diamondbacks outfield, and that doesn’t appear to have changed much in a year’s time.
The Diamondbacks gave Eaton the majority of the playing time in center field in September once the team had been elimination from contention. The test for Eaton was two-fold – the team wanted to see if he could handle center field defensively, and they wanted to see if his Pacific Cast League MVP of a season was a fluke or was the result of extreme hitting conditions.
Eaton has done nothing but produce during his minor league career, but as an undersized player with few plus tools, he has had to continue to prove himself over and over again. His career .355 batting average in the minors should be enough to win over most people, yet there are still doubters.
There aren’t nearly as many as there used to be, however, and Eaton further helped his cause by playing well during his call-up, hitting .259/.382/.412 in the majors.
The Diamondbacks aren’t going so far as to hand Eaton the starting position, but he will certainly get every opportunity to be their starting center fielder next spring.
Eaton may not offer the defense or power that Young provided, but his skill set does better fit the needs of the Diamondbacks offense.
Eaton’s biggest asset is as a table-setter. In the Diamondbacks offense that features plenty of power, a viable lead off hitter provides plenty of run-scoring options. Eaton routinely featured double-digit walk rates in the minors, and walked in 13.6% of his major league plate appearances.
The trade of Young opens up a spot for Eaton at the top of the Diamondbacks lineup, and with his on-base ability a dire need in the desert, he should get every chance to fill it.