Adam Eaton and Expectations


Adam Eaton hits a single in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. IMAGE: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsSports

As you’ve surely heard, Adam Eaton has been shut down with another round of elbow troubles. Kevin Towers has stated that there is no new damage to Eaton’s elbow as revealed by his latest MRI. Instead, there is fluid and swelling around the ligament. As a result, he’s being shut down with a “sprained elbow” for six to eight weeks to rest and build up strength in the joint. Let’s hope this works.

And if you haven’t been following along, although you likely have, this is Eaton’s second bout with elbow trouble this year. Eaton was pegged to be the team’s Opening Day starting centerfielder and had a strong showing in Spring Training until late March when he first experienced discomfort in his elbow. During his rehab stint, Eaton played 16 games in preparation for a return to the desert. In 13 of those games, however, he DH’d, meaning he only played centerfield three times. Those three games, plus whatever activities he was participating in on the side, were enough to cause the injury to flare up again. That should be concerning.

The issue here is not about Eaton specifically, though. It’s about prospects and young players who haven’t exactly proven themselves as quality big league regulars. If there’s anything we can learn from this situation, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to roster constructions and counting on certain guys to develop and perform. Every player should be considered a wildcard until further notice.

Throughout the minors, Eaton had been very durable, playing 121 and 130 games in his first two full season, respectively. It’s not as if we should have seen this coming. But while we might not have been expected to see elbow troubles cropping up right as he was about to make his splash into The Show, perhaps we presumed a little much when he was expected to be a strong on-base presence and base-stealing threat for the Dbacks for the next five or six years. In other words, we got ahead of ourselves a little bit and now we have re-examine the amount of faith we put into an unproven commodity. The stats bear themselves out all through the minors and even in his brief major league sample in 2012, but slumps, adjustments and inconsistent performances aren’t the only thing to be worried about with young players as injuries often happen, too.

Adam Eaton during photo day at Salt River Fields. IMAGE: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to fantasize about lineups and defensive positioning, especially in the winter. Let’s face it, it’s better to dream of baseball than just about anything else that time of year. With that said, we easily to get carried away and start projecting things that we aren’t sure about yet. Perhaps this strikes a chord with me because I’ve always been a Mariners fan at heart and we’ve seen disappointment after disappointment (Ackley should be joining Montero in AAA, IMO). Eaton looked like the future (as did numerous Mariners draft picks), but there are some serious variables out there that even the best scouts and talent evaluators can’t see coming. These elbow issues are just another sad example of that.

I hate to see Eaton hurt because I think he could make this Diamondbacks team even better than it currently is. Maybe the rehab works this time, maybe it doesn’t and he eventually needs some kind of surgery. That might kill his throwing arm or force him to adjust his swing. Then again, maybe this is the last bump in the road before a long and prosperous major league career for Adam Eaton. We just don’t know and we shouldn’t presume to.

This situation should serve as a reminder about counting our chickens before they hatch. It should also be an opportunity re-emphasize the importance of solid drafting and international acquisitions because if random events like Eaton’s elbow troubles should be somewhat accounted for when projecting rosters, depth is the most important thing an organization can have. No player, no matter how good or durable they may have been as an amateur or in the minors, should be written into the organization’s future in ink. We have to temper expectations and expect the unexpected until proven otherwise.

Like a Texas Hold ‘Em hand, it’s probably wisest to slow-play player expectations, and the usually durable Adam Eaton should remind us of that.