Adam Eaton’s second chance at a first impression with Nats

WASHINGTON — What was the commercial that said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?” Adam Eaton may get that chance this April, as the team’s major off-season acquisition from last winter tries to finish what he started in 2017.

Eaton’s arrival last year was almost as much about who the Nats gave up — former first-round picks Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning, plus prime prospect Reynaldo Lopez. For the record, Giolito and Lopez both went 3-3 last year for the White Sox, while Dunning pitched with Single-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem (although let’s be honest:  Doesn’t Dane Dunning sound like the name of a teen sleuth in Young Adult Fiction?). Eaton simply had one incredible April in Washington (ranking third in the majors in runs scored) before going down with a torn ACL 23 games into the season.

It’s amazing to think that the Nationals still went on to win 97 games minus their leadoff hitter for the vast majority of the season (and don’t forget they were minus replacement leadoff man Trea Turner for 60-plus games due to a broken wrist). Make no mistake — there was a void atop the order minus the player who earned the nickname Mighty Mouse.

Eaton posted a .388 on base percentage (which would have ranked second in MLB) from the leadoff spot while the other Nats’ leadoff hitters combined to hit just .259, the team finishing 19th in the majors in on-base percentage from the top spot in the batting order. Turner, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo each have skills and can shine in the lineup, but none of them were able to duplicate Eaton’s April.

Every good sequel is a little bit different from the original, and that’s the case for Eaton II: Left Field Boogaloo. Michael A. Taylor’s emergence last season in center field means Eaton shifts over to left. There are those who dissect the numbers and analytics, and there are those who rely on the “eye test” when judging defensive players. Both camps regard Eaton as better served in left field.

Last year 12 players saw action in left (including Eaton for three games) and combined to produce one of the worst rates in the majors at that position. Stabilizing a position that is traditionally expected to produce offensively will be key, which is especially true with Daniel Murphy’s recovery from knee surgery, keeping the All-Star second baseman’s bat on the shelf until at least mid-April.

So the guy who is no longer the new kid in town gets a second chance at a first season with his new team that he’s been with for over a year. At least he’ll get a chance to run around in D.C.’s July heat for the first time. Bring some extra Mighty Mouse T-shirts to change into midgame, Adam. And welcome back.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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