Adam Eaton is flourishing in right field, off to the best season of his life after performing to mixed reviews in center field the previous two years. But he doesn’t want to stay there.
Eaton makes this much clear: There’s no itch to move now, not with Austin Jackson adequately patrolling center field in the best interest of the Sox, who will take a 24-14 record into their three-game series against the Houston Astros Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. The domino effect of Eaton’s move to right and Avisail Garcia’s shift from right to DH after Jackson was signed to a one-year deal during spring training has been a big key to the Sox’ defensive about-face.
Eaton, who made the move willingly, knows it’s best for all involved where he’s at.
He also knows it’s best for career interests if he gets back to center at some point after this season. And he, and many in the organization agree – general manager Rick Hahn included – that Eaton could be a very good center fielder again.
“I would want to, absolutely,’’ Eaton said. “At the end of the day I’m a center fielder.’’
In right field, Eaton is leading the major leagues with 15 defensive runs saved, and he leads American League outfielders with seven assists. He seems to make better reads on balls off the bat, gets to the line and warning track quickly and makes sure potential doubles are held to singles.
He believes he can play that way in center, too. Two years ago, his first season after Hahn acquired him in a three-team trade that cost the Sox left-hander Hector Santiago, Eaton was a Gold Glove finalist.
“He can still be a real good center fielder like he was in 2014,’’ Hahn said.
Hahn also says Eaton has “thrived” on the switch, “and we’ve all benefitted from it.’’
But center still owns Eaton’s heart.
“I would love to be a center fielder,’’ Eaton said. “It’s hard for people to agree after the year I had last year but I’m more the center fielder I was the year before. Last year was a little fluky. But if there’s a better man for the position and it makes the team better, I have no thoughts of moving over. I want to win a World Series.’’
Eaton was agreeable to the move late last year, when Trayce Thompson emerged as a center field possibility before Thompson was moved in the three-team Todd Frazier deal.
Team first, Eaton said.
“You can make as much money in this game as you want to,’’ Eaton said, “but if you don’t win championships no one is going to remember you. I want to win.’’
Eaton also knows his value profiles better when his offensive numbers are compared to center fielders. Not that he’s playing for a contract – Hahn signed him to a five-year, $23.5 million deal before last season.
“In right field, it’s different from a value standpoint, a smaller guy playing right field who hits 10 homers, when I have to compete with guys who hit 25 or 30 home runs,’’ he said. “In that retrospect my value changes a little.’’
Hitting .303/.396/.421, which has helped him build a WAR of 2.3 (FanGraphs), tied for fifth among all position players in baseball. Last season, Eaton hit .287/.361/.431 with 14 homers, 56 RBI and 98 runs scored after a slow start. He ranked 47th in WAR last season.
Obviously, the switch is working well for player and team.
“If Austin comes back [next season] we’ll have a good outfield again,’’ Eaton said. “I think we’re better with him in center — he’s a great center fielder. When you have multiple center fielders in the outfield you’re going to be better.’’