Whether you’ve held A.J. Pollack throughout his development or picked him up in a deal at some point, you have something really valuable on your dynasty team right now. It would take a heck of an offer for you to even think of parting with him, and that’s exactly why I’m not picking up the phone to make you a deal. Fantasy baseball is all about value. I can’t get value by trading for A.J. Pollack now. I need to find the A.J. Pollack of 2016, and I think I’ve found my man.
A couple of years ago, Adam Eaton was a well-regarded prospect in the Diamondbacks organization. A centerfielder with speed, on-base skills, and a good defensive reputation, he seemed like an asset that a team with long-term goals of contending would want to build around. But before the 2014 season began, he was shipped to the White Sox in a three-team trade that brought Mark Trumbo to Arizona.
The DBacks had their reasons for dealing Eaton, though they are not captivating ones. He was considered expendable partially due to the emergence of another former first round pick, A.J. Pollack. Additionally, Eaton missed time with an elbow injury in 2013, so that probably made the decision to move him a little easier. You would think, given Eaton’s youth, upside and relative inexpensive contract for the coming years,that he would have brought back more than Trumbo, but that’s a different story for another day.
Chicago seemed to be a good landing spot for Eaton, for his own career and from a fantasy perspective. While he hit .300 and chipped in 15 stolen bases in 2014, he also hit one home run. Power was never Eaton’s forte, but we had to expect more than one home run, right? The absence of power made him tough to carry in spite of his positive contributions in other categories.
The hope for more speed and a secure place at the top of Chicago’s batting order prevented Eaton’s fantasy star from dimming completely coming into the 2015 season, but he didn’t show up on too many sleeper lists either. Then he went out and had a terrible April – batting under .200 with a single stolen base and not one RBI. It seemed time for fantasy owners to look elsewhere.
But as the year went on he started hitting better and running more. More surprisingly, he began hitting for power. By the end of the year he had 14 home runs; that may not do a lot for you, but it does something for me – especially when it’s accompanied by 18 steals, a .287 average and nearly 100 runs scored. By the end of the year he was side-by-side on player raters with Michael Brantley and Justin Upton. You know, players you’d be content to have as your top outfielder on most teams.
Eaton had an under-the-radar breakout that has been obscured by a rough start. This is another way he is similar to Pollack, who actually “broke out” during his 2014 season. We overlooked it because he wasn’t playing every day early on and missed some time because of injury, but he never should have gone as late as he did in drafts. I think we’ll be saying “he never should have gone as late as he did in drafts” about Eaton next year.
I buy into the power gains Eaton made in 2015. It is easy to predict regression here. He had hit 6 major league home runs coming into the 2015 season, and had never hit 14 home runs in any professional season – not even when he was in hitters’ parks in the minors. However, Eaton changed his approach at the plate in 2015. He always had a ground ball tilt, and in 2014 he hit nearly 3 groundballs for every flyball. But this year he lowered that ratio about 2 to 1, and since he hit more flyballs, it happens that more of them landed over the fence, but it’s not as if his HR/FB% of 10.3 is some unsustainable high number.
Also, if Adam LaRoche made this bet with you, wouldn’t you start swinging for the fences? I actually like this article because it reveals Eaton’s willingness to adjust and desire to improve. And while it is anecdotal, it is more evidence to support the idea that this power surge was something Eaton was shooting for rather than some happy accident.
This piece written as the season was ending also provides insight on Eaton’s efforts to get better. It is illuminating in other ways. I can understand if you don’t want to be burdened with homework, so I will pull out the passage I found most significant:
“The review from his teammates has improved as the season and Eaton have progressed. Some players didn’t always understand his penchant for overstating things when interviewed. The T-shirts with Eaton’s head shot at the end of a straw while stirring a martini made their way around the Sox locker room earlier this season. Eaton was initially hurt by the mocking of the group. As time has passed, the T-shirts have slowly disappeared.”
Whether Eaton was really too cocky or some veterans were boorish and misunderstanding I cannot say. (I confess to leaning against the veterans here. “You are such a jackass. You are such a jackass I had this t-shirt made that explains what a jackass you are.”) But I do know I’d probably have a hard time concentrating on work if I saw my co-workers wearing T-shirts that made me look like a jerk to passers-by.
The good news is that it seems that whatever ill will existed between Eaton and his teammates has gone by the way. Perhaps that was an overlooked factor that abetted his improvement last year. At any rate, it seems Eaton can now focus more on what’s happening on the field.
And you might focus on acquiring him in dynasty leagues while you still can. The speed and average have always been there. The power seems real to me. If the White Sox offense improves (It was really terrible last year.) we can bump up the counting stats a bit too. It all adds up to a potential cornerstone outfielder for years to come at a reduced price today.
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