Eaton's unique versatility could earn him a roster spot

Chapman's debut delayed; Keller, Reyes flash skills in Spring Training game

February 27th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- carries five gloves in his bag as he jumps from field to field at the Royals’ Spring Training complex. Two infield gloves. Two outfield gloves. And a catcher’s mitt for emergencies.

It makes for a heavy bag.

He doesn’t mind a bit.

“I’ll definitely take that over having one,” Eaton said. “Whatever it takes.”

Eaton played second base in the Royals’ 8-7 win over the Mariners at Surprise Stadium on Sunday afternoon. This was two days after he started in right field. In a couple of days, you might see him at third base or in center field.

In other words, Eaton is as versatile as they come. That -- along with his fiery style of play, elite speed and plus-plus arm -- might earn him a roster spot on Opening Day. The Royals’ center-field depth is thin with Drew Waters (left oblique strain) out, so Eaton will get reps there behind Kyle Isbel. Kansas City sees Hunter Dozier as its starting third baseman, but Eaton will still see time there if the Royals have to make a change. Eaton got his first look at second this spring on Sunday, and he will also see time in the corner outfield, especially if the team prioritizes defense there.

“He wants to play every inning of every game and do everything at 100 mph,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “And he’s been super willing to be open to the ideas of all these different positions. Basically, ‘I just want to be in there.’ He’s a hard-nosed player and somebody that puts a lot of energy into what we’re doing.”

Eaton also has a unique skillset as an emergency backup catcher. The 26-year-old was drafted as a catcher out of Virginia Military Institute in the 21st round of the 2018 MLB Draft, and while he has never logged an inning behind the plate in the Minor Leagues, he’s seen as an emergency catcher if the team gets in a bind. To stay sharp, Eaton caught a few bullpens last year in Kansas City and will likely do the same later on in camp this year.

“It’s a huge plus for any roster to have somebody that versatile,” Quatraro said. “It’s very rare to find somebody that can do things at multiple positions very well. … It’s a unique skillset, but one that he’s really good at.”

And one that Eaton enjoys. Between his time in the batting cage and batting practice outside, he’s either working with infield coach José Alguacil or outfield coaches Damon Hollins and Rusty Kuntz. Aside from the catchers, Eaton might be the busiest Royals player in camp.

“They definitely want to see how well and how comfortable I play all those positions,” Eaton said. “So [I'm] just bouncing around. It’s fun to me. I enjoy it.”

Eaton made his Major League debut in 2022, playing in 44 games and slashing .264/.331/.387 with 11 stolen bases. The taste of the big leagues gave him motivation this offseason to focus on his defense and become a more consistent hitter. If he needs more motivation, he glances up at the wall above his locker in the Spring Training clubhouse, where the Royals have a graphic of all the rookies from the ‘22 youth movement.

Eaton’s picture is in the middle. It’s from his first home run in Toronto, when he was pointing up at his mom in the stands while rounding the bases.

He’ll play every position possible if it means having more moments like that.

“Whatever it takes,” Eaton said again, this time with a grin.

Chapman’s debut delayed
’s Royals debut was delayed a few days after he experienced “a minor accident at home” on Saturday and didn’t sleep well, Quatraro said. Chapman, who signed a one-year deal with Kansas City this offseason, was slated to pitch in Sunday’s game, but the Royals didn’t want to rush him with game action. He’ll get back on the mound in a few days.

“He had a minor accident at home and didn’t get much sleep,” Quatraro said. “We’re giving him a day or two to get back on his feet.”

Quatraro said the accident was a physical one and is not a long-term concern.

Royals rumblings
debuted his new curveball Sunday, throwing it often to get comfortable with the pitch. He didn’t throw it for strikes much, but the movement was solid.

“I couldn’t command it as well as I wanted to, so it put me in bad counts,” Keller said after allowing two runs on three hits in 1 2/3 innings. “I kept leaving it a little bit arm side, more than I would like. But my sweeper and changeup, happy with that, and my fastball was sinking and cutting.”

hit a towering home run in the first inning Sunday, a flash of the power the club was hoping to unlock when it signed him. The ball landed on the left-field concourse -- for an estimated 460 feet, per the Royals.

“The wind was blowing, but he didn’t need any help,” Quatraro said.