Center of attention: Eaton is a hit in DC

New Nationals outfielder interacts with fans at club's WinterFest

Center of attention: Eaton is a hit in DC

WASHINGTON -- Once Adam Eaton saw the White Sox had traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox on Wednesday, he knew it opened up the possibility that he would also be dealt. He just wasn't expecting to find out that he had been traded to the Nationals later that night.

Washington acquired Eaton to be its center fielder this season and traded away Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, three of the club's top six overall prospects, in order to do so. The trade was surprising to many around baseball, especially considering the Nats are usually reluctant to trade top prospects.

On Saturday at Nationals WinterFest, Eaton wanted to clarify a subject that has been debated often since the trade: his defense in center field.

Eaton on being traded

In 2014, Eaton was a strong defensive center fielder and accumulated 12 defensive runs saved. By that same metric, though, he had a down season in 2015 with a -14 DRS. Chicago moved him to right field last season, and he was one of the best right fielders in baseball with 22 DRS. However, Eaton is still confident in his ability to play in center and play it well.

"If you look at my year before 2015 -- which everyone is really, really focused on -- I was a Gold Glove finalist in center field in the AL. I'd like to think that I'm that player," Eaton said. "Two out of three years ain't bad to be a finalist. But like I said, people really want to harp on '15, where I was very poor. I don't like to harp on the negative either. So I think that I'm definitely the '14 player."

Eaton on excitement for season

While some have harped on his defense, Eaton has been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball over the past three seasons, hitting .290 with a .362 on-base percentage. He also hit 14 homers in each of the past two seasons.

Eaton said struggling early in his career prompted him to develop consistency at the plate. The birth of his son in April also had a positive impact on his approach to baseball.

"I give a lot of credit to him. He put life in perspective. Not everything revolves around baseball," Eaton said. "Being able to put these games behind me allowed me to be a little more consistent."

Eaton wore his new No. 2 jersey on Saturday, a number he chose because of its connections to his family. He wore the number in high school, his wife wore it while playing softball in college and his brother-in-law wears it while playing college hockey.

Saturday was Eaton's first introduction to Nationals fans since the blockbuster trade, and he offered a description of his style of play.

"Anything to win a ballgame," Eaton said. "I have to do the small things correctly. I have to think the game. I have to play the game hard. I have to go out there and want to win at any cost. I've played my whole career as such, and I'll continue to do that. Hopefully, people see me as a player that wants to win and will do anything to win and does the small things correctly."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.