Eaton still proving he's worth his weight

Eaton still proving he's worth his weight

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Adam Eaton has worn a gray Mighty Mouse T-shirt around the clubhouse almost daily during his first week at the Nationals clubhouse. It's a nickname he received while at Miami (Ohio), and as Eaton, who is listed at 5-foot-8, has embraced the character, the shirt has become one of his favorites.

"Anybody that's small in size, in this game especially Jose Altuve, Dustin Pedroia, you definitely play with a chip on your shoulder," Eaton said Sunday morning. "To say that smaller guys can play this game and play at a high level."

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Although Eaton might be small, he begins his first Nationals camp as their biggest offseason addition.

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They traded three top pitching prospects to the White Sox to acquire Eaton, a move that surprised some around baseball considering Eaton has never been an All-Star, never hit 20 home runs and never had an OPS above .800. However, he consistently and quietly has been one of the best outfielders in baseball the past three seasons, averaging a .362 on-base percentage and 5.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Still, until he can prove it on the field in Washington, there will be those who believe the Nationals gave up too much to acquire Eaton.

"It's not my job to try to put weight on my shoulders or try to see what they've given up for me," Eaton said. "I've been doubted my whole life and whole career."

In fact, Eaton has made it this far by constantly playing with a chip on his shoulder. At first, it was his size, especially when he was told in high school that a player with similar attributes who was 6-foot tall would always be taken over him. Then it was when he was selected in the 19th round of the 2010 Draft and wanted to prove he was better than that. Now there are a number of people who are unimpressed that this was the Nationals only major move this offseason.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker met with former White Sox manager Robin Ventura this offseason, while the two were vacationing separately in Hawaii, and Ventura offered some advice on Eaton.

"Robin said he comes to play," Baker said. "And I think that's the No. 1 thing that we're getting paid for. You come to play. That's a good sign and it's a very good reputation to have -- that he's a ballplayer."

Baker added that if he could build his ideal ballplayer, he would build him under 6-feet tall, around 5-foot-9. Then, he listed a number of former teammates who were "short" but had successful careers: Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and current Nats first base coach Davey Lopes.

"I had some excellent ballplayers of shorter stature," Baker said.

Eaton has a chance to become the latest.

"I'm living proof that you don't have to be 6-3 to play in this league," Eaton said. "You don't have to be the most athletic and the prettiest runner, and everything doesn't have to be beautiful. Just go out and have a drive, and reach your goal."

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.