BALTIMORE – Does “eventful” aptly describe Adam Eaton’s spring?
Let’s see, there was recovery from shoulder surgery, an ill-advised twitter post, a misinterpreted comment about 14-year-old Drake LaRoche being a team leader and, on top of all that, a position change.
“It was a sloppy spring, for sure,’’ Eaton says.
To Eaton’s credit, he put his head down and sorted things out, trying to figure out where he might have gone wrong. He embraced the move from center field to right, giving way to a more experienced Austin Jackson. He talked to veteran catcher Alex Avila about dealing with the media. And as the White Sox’ head-turning April passed with a club-tying record 17 wins, Eaton was one of the biggest reasons with a steady bat at the top of the lineup and defense in right field like nobody else in baseball is playing.
“You grow from those moments and learn from them and try to get better from mistakes you make,’’ Eaton said. “There were hard times with the shoulder and rehab and the longevity of the injury. Through all the media stuff Alex helped me through that, just understanding what media does and how media portrays certain things and showing me you can’t make everybody happy in this world. I give credit to my teammates and the organization. They’ve made it easier.’’
Eaton’s defense in right, coupled with Jackson’s in center, are only two reasons why Sox baseball is easier on the eyes in 2016. After playing center his first two seasons with the Sox (and being a Gold Glove finalist in his first), Eaton is running down fly balls all over right, keeping singles to singles on balls that would have been doubles with Avisail Garcia in right and throwing runners out with a strong, accurate, fully healed left arm.
Eaton has six outfield assists, the most in baseball, and went into Sunday’s game with 13 defensive runs saved, the most by any player at any position in either league. Stephen Piscotty was second with seven.
“He looks great over there,’’ Sox outfielders coach Daryl Boston said. “He gets great jumps off the bat, he’s going back on balls better than it seemed like he did in center. He’s made a smooth transition over there, that’s for sure.’’
Eaton seems to track the ball better off the bat in right and might have a better personality or mindset for the corner.
“Not everybody has the mentality or makeup to want to be the main guy in center,’’ Boston said. “It seems like he relishes the role of the guy who’s more under the radar. He plays hard, he’s [all] out. But I think he’d rather be in the background just doing his thing.’’
Said Jackson: “What he’s been able to do is pretty amazing. And I don’t think anyone is questioning that arm anymore.’’
Eaton also seems to be settling into a better comfort zone in the clubhouse, and in that regard, Avila has been helpful.
“We talked about the aspect of not alienating himself on stuff that he says,’’ Avila said. “We talked about the whole twitter thing, how to handle being something that the media is going to on a daily basis. That’s part of my job as a catcher. Trying to help him learn how to give [media] something so they can do their job but at the same time being respectful in whatever the situation or topic might be.’’
Eaton could have dug his heels in when he was moved from center, but to his credit he did what was best for the team and can’t say enough about Jackson’s assistance.
“When someone takes your job and moves you, it takes special people on both sides – the guy having the job taken away from and the guy coming in,’’ Eaton said. “He came in very helpful, to help me over there, the communication, how are we going to do this. We’re just constantly communicating and he’s trying to make me comfortable over there. He has my back and I have his.’’