Grading the 2022 KC Royals: The versatile Nate Eaton

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Unlike KC Royals prospects Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez, no spotlights were trained on Nate Eaton when the 2022 minor league season began. Even the most dedicated students of Kansas City’s farm clubs probably weren’t paying much attention to him.

The fact Eaton wasn’t generating any serious fanfare was of his own doing. Yes, he signed soon after the draft and blazed through rookie ball that same summer with a .354 average and .427 OBP and, with 19 steals in 66 games, served notice of what he could do on the basepaths.

But his bat soon softened. He hit .233 in Low-A the following season and then, after missing the pandemic-canceled 2020 campaign, .243 across 75 games split between a brief injury rehab stint back in rookie ball and High-A Quad Cities in 2021.

Last season was different.

KC Royals infielder-outfielder Nate Eaton’s baseball luck improved in 2022.

Eaton’s 2019 and 2021 numbers didn’t seem to position hm well for a promotion. But promote him the Royals did, and he began last season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where the .271 he was hitting in late May prompted the Royals to advance him another notch to Triple-A Omaha. He was  slashing a torrid .329/.388/.591 for the Storm Chasers when Kansas City summoned him to Toronto with the nine other minor leaguers they needed to replace 10 major leaguers whose vaccination status barred them from playing in Canada.

Eaton opened an eye or two during the callup that lasted only as long as the four-game series with the Blue Jays—he started the first contest in center field and, after striking out in his first big league at-bat and flying out in the next two, homered in the ninth to give the young Royals the third run of their 3-1 win. And although he collected only one other hit in the series, he started and finished each game in center and didn’t commit an error in 11 chances.

His temporary major league work complete, he returned to Omaha, but by Aug. 4 was back with the Royals to stay and demonstrated his versatility by playing 20 times in right field, six in left, five in center, and 15 at third base, the position he played more than any in the minors.

He also stole 11 bases in 12 attempts, a testament to the top drawer speed that serves him just as well in the outfield.

And moving around the field frequently didn’t seriously impair Eaton’s glove—he made two errors, one in left and one at third, in 80 chances, and his spectacular outfield plays endeared him to the club and its fans.

Perhaps more importantly, however, and as he had earlier in the season at Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, Eaton did much to whittle away any serious doubts about his bat work his subpar Low-A and High-A efforts may have created. From the time of his second callup to season’s end, he hit .277 with a .340 OBP, and finished his rookie campaign with a respectable 101 wRC+ and .264 average.

For all that and his resurgence at the plate in his rookie season, we’ll give Eaton, who should be back in 2023, a B+.

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Nate Eaton had a decent first season for Kansas City.