Deaton, in many ways, is a mass of contradictions. Despite being a highly touted high school player, Deaton went undrafted in 2000, in large part because teams were scared off by Deaton's scholarship offer to be an offensive lineman for the University of Florida. While it isn't unheard of for high school football stars to turn down college scholarships for professional baseball contracts, very rarely do players turn down scholarships when they go undrafted. But that is what Deaton did, choosing to sign with the New York Mets rather than block for Rex Grossman and company.
He began his career in Kingsport, where he spent most of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Deaton then was promoted to low-A Brooklyn, where he had an outstanding season. In 15 starts and one relief appearance, Deaton went 7-1 with a 3.07 ERA. He struck out 93 batters in 82 innings and allowed only 68 hits. He followed that campaign with two solid seasons at high-A (Capital City in 2003 and St. Lucie in 2004).
Deaton's progress was stalled somewhat in 2004 by soreness in his rotator cuff that limited him to only 19 starts for St. Lucie. He performed well there, posted a 2.99 ERA and striking out 73 in 96.1 innings. That off-season the Mets thought highly enough of Deaton to send him to the Arizona Fall League. He appeared ready for a big jump towards the big leagues in 2005, when the injury bug struck again.
Deaton's first crack at Double-A was almost sabotaged from the start. He had a back injury in May 2005 that sidelined him for a few weeks. Then Deaton began to experience arm pain in June. After a month of attempted rehabilitation, Deaton underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his 2005 season and robbing him of most of his 2006 campaign.
Deaton did manage to get back on the mound at the end of the 2006 campaign, making three starts for the Mets Rookie League team. He struck out 10 and walked only two in 11.2 innings of work.
This off-season, Deaton was a six-year minor league free agent and he chose to sign with a team all-too familiar with injuries to their minor leaguers: the Oakland A's.
When Deaton joined the Mets organization in 2000, he tipped the scales at 271 pounds. He has since dropped his football weight to a more manageable 235 pounds, but he is still an intimidating presence on the mound. Despite his large build, Deaton is not a flame-thrower. In many ways, he is like current A's starter Joe Blanton in that he is a big-bodied pitcher who throws his fastball in the high-80s/low-90s and relies on his control and his secondary pitches to get hitters out.
Deaton has an excellent curveball, a slider and a change-up that he can run in to righties and will hit the outside corner against lefties. His fastball has a lot of sinking action and he can spot it well.
Deaton's best attribute as a pitcher is that he has very good control and he mixes his pitches well. Since he doesn't have an over-powering fastball, Deaton has to rely on keeping hitters off-balance to be effective. He has done a good job of that throughout his career, posting a solid 8.44 K/9 ratio despite not throwing hard. Deaton has also done an excellent job of keeping the ball in the ballpark throughout his career. In 453.1 career innings, Deaton has allowed only 24 homers.
Although Deaton is a big guy, he is well-built and athletic. One of the reasons he was such a highly recruited offensive lineman in high school was his agility. He fields his position well and he can vary his throwing motion to create deception. He has a reputation for being a hard-worker and a battler on the mound.
Health has been the biggest hurdle for Deaton since he became a professional baseball player. Despite having six years of minor league experience, he is still only 25 years old. Before his Tommy John surgery, Deaton was being talked about as a possible fifth starter at the major league level in 2007. Now that timetable has been pushed back at least another year.
Whether Deaton pitches in the starting rotation or out of the bullpen will have a lot to do with how healthy he is in spring training. He is likely to begin the year at Double-A Midland, but he could earn a promotion to Triple-A if he performs well early and shows no signs of his elbow problems.
With his injury history, Deaton's long-term future will likely be in the bullpen, where his arm can be protected a bit better.